Having blown promising positions against Mayo, Galway and then Dublin, Donegal made some amends yesterday in Ballyshannon to blow Monaghan away with a degree of comfort.
Declan Bonner’s team had only themselves to blame for turning a jostle with those at the top of the Division 1 table into a scrap to stay in the top-flight.
They’re not safe yet, although this 10-point win over Monaghan would’ve alleviated some of the frustration they’ve built up in recent weeks.
With conditions at Fr Tierney Park certainly awkward — a hail shower fell almost horizontally at one stage in the first half — Donegal pressed on from a 1-5 to 0-2 interval advantage, with Caolan Ward the goalscorer, and weren’t for taking the foot off the gas this week.
Monaghan, second best from start to finish, saw whatever chances they had recede to nothing when Ryan Wylie was dismissed for adding a yellow to a first-half black on 41 minutes.
Then, with the bookmakers having already paid out, they lost Rory Beggan to the sin-bin in a move that concluded with Hugh McFadden smashing a second Donegal goal into an empty net from a couple of yards out.
Referee David Coldrick had played the advantage before dishing out the black card to the Monaghan goalkeeper for hauling down Patrick McBrearty in the build-up.
Donegal just played it out till the finish and had the unusual luxury of not requiring a single Michael Murphy score. Michael Langan would score five points from play from his berth at centre-field.
“Even though we didn’t get over the line against Dublin or Galway, there has been a really good atmosphere in the squad,” Bonner said afterwards. “They’re all pushing on. The results were disappointing, but the effort they were putting in was excellent.
“It was important for us to get the two points. We spoke about it before the match. Whatever about the performance, it was all about getting the two points and getting over the line.”
McBrearty was making his first start of 2020 having spent the best part of three months holidaying in the United States and kicked two early scores. Both teams struggled to find their way on occasion in the difficult conditions, but Donegal, with whatever wind, were 0-3 to 0-1 up on the half-hour, with Monaghan’s first point only coming on 27 minutes from a Conor Boyle punch.
Murphy was inside more often than not and with his early marker Kieran Hughes booked inside the quarter-hour, others swarmed the Donegal captain.
However, that too was their undoing as Murphy, almost swallowed up on 32 minutes, still found space to feed Langan who in turn fed Ward to strike an excellent first goal past Beggan. Langan’s brace made it a six-point game at the break.
Making sure they’d not have their coattails pinched as the second half took shape, Langan and Peadar Mogan’s points, either side of Wylie’s dismissal, gave the hosts a 1-9 to 0-3 lead.
Jack McCarron did provide Monaghan with something more up front — the substitute would score three to add to Conor McManus’s two frees. Donegal, though, were in control, with Murphy linking the play from wherever he saw fit.
Monaghan’s press was undone on 54 minutes as Mogan got McBrearty away into space and he managed to get off a pass to McFadden, despite being fouled by Beggan.
McFadden wasn’t going to miss and it was 2-9 to 0-6 and all but over.
Niall O’Donnell came off the bench to score a couple of points, as Langan added two more to complete a splendid personal performance. Many of the supporters had made their way back down the hill headed for home by then. Monaghan, in their head, probably had too.
“We were very happy where we were with 31 minutes gone in the game,” said Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney. “We felt that we had Donegal in a great place, especially with the strong breeze. But Donegal got a goal then and the first two points of the second half and it was going to be a serious uphill battle of that.
“When we dropped to 13 men and Donegal are one of the best teams in the country at keeping the ball. When you give them a lead like that, it’s not a good place to be.”
Scorers for Donegal: M Langan (0-5); P McBrearty (0-3, 1 free), H McFadden, C Ward (1-0 each), N O’Donnell (0-2), P Mogan, C Thompson (0-1 each)
Scorers for Monaghan: J McCarron (0-3, 1 free); C McManus (0-2 frees); C McCarthy, C Boyle, K Hughes (0-1 each)
DONEGAL: S Patton; C Ward, N McGee, E Gallagher; R McHugh, D Ó Baoill, O McFadden-Ferry; H McFadden, M Langan; P Brennan, C Thompson, C McGonagle; P McBrearty, M Murphy, P Mogan.
Subs: N O’Donnell for P.Brennan (34), E McHugh for McFadden-Ferry (38), A McClean for McGonagle (54, J Mac Ceallabhuí for Mogan (68), E Doherty for McBrearty (69)
MONAGHAN: R Beggan; D Wylie, C Boyle, K Duffy; K O’Connell, R Wylie, M Bannigan; D Hughes, N Kearns; R McAnespie, C McCarthy, D Ward; D Malone, K Hughes, C McManus.
Subs: J McCarron for Bannigan (h-t), C McGuinness for D.Hughes (50), S Carey for Malone (50), D Kirk for McAnespie (55), Colin Walsh for Beggan (66).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)