Declan Bonner’s Donegal begin on front foot

Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15
There’s championship openers and there’s open championship games and for those on the outside looking in, this is the way Declan Bonner has stated his Donegal side will endeavour to play.

Although Cavan gained promotion to Division 1 in the spring and might’ve even waved at Donegal on their way past as they hurtled towards relegation, yesterday in Ballybofey it was the hosts who were much the stronger and showed an impressive variety in their attacking options.

While in yesteryear Donegal were built from the back looking forward, Bonner, starting his second championship tenure yesterday as manager some 20 years after his first, suggested the way they might play it is to make use of the attacking options available to him.

Bonner would freely admit that this more expansive approach will have its drawbacks from a defensive perspective but for this time of year, when almost every team in the country still possess dreams, it was decent fare from Donegal and Cavan in a setting not renowned for it.

Cavan managed their ascension to the top flight on the back of some mean defensive displays and did try to open up a bit in the Division 2 final, where they lost 2-16 to 2-12 against Roscommon, and yesterday they had a go as well. There were similar positives but an inkling to see if what served them well this year might be worth reverting to come the qualifiers.

Donegal, with the likes of Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty on the scene kicking 0-10 between them, have certain know-how. And in Ciaran Thompson, Michael Langan, and Jamie Brennan, there’s some new foils in the forward line.

Murphy put in an exceptional shift and even though there’s more than a hint of grey in the hair at the outset of his 12th championship season, he’s still this team’s leader, whether in body or soul. He kicked six points but drove his team on when they needed and slowed it down when that was the order of the day.

McBrearty was perhaps even more impressive in the Allianz League, with 0-38 in five matches. Yesterday he was a little subdued and Cavan may have been forgiven for thinking they had his number, only for McBrearty to open his legs in the last 11 minutes and kick Donegal’s final four points.

Cian Mulligan, a second- half substitute, drove home Donegal’s second goal with crisp efficiency in the last minute and that was that.

Cavan can be content enough with certain parts of their game. They started well and by the 16th minute were in a decent position, 1-3 to 0-4 up thanks to a well-taken goal from Caoimhin O’Reilly. Not only was it well taken, it was also expertly created.

Killian Clarke was the architect and he managed to twist to go one way as the entire Donegal defence went the other, and O’Reilly was in to shoot past Shaun Patton in the home team’s goal.

That, though, was the exception and not the rule in the first half. It was the only Cavan score in a spell between the ninth and 32nd minute when they were outscored 1-9 to 1-0 by their hosts.

Langan, Thompson, Murphy, and Caolan Ward all scored points and Ryan McHugh’s goal, on 24 minutes, swung the balance of power and edged Donegal into a 1-7 to 1-3 lead. McHugh was the most alert person in front of the 9,612 in attendance in Ballybofey to see Murphy’s 45 was dropping short and planted a one-handed fisted effort past Raymond Galligan.

Cavan’s Galligan, though, did manage to keep Patrick McBrearty out in a one-on-one situation as the roof threatened to cave in for the visitors.

Donegal looked the epitome of efficiency, kicking just two first-half wides as they went in 1-10 to 1-6 in front at the break. The one thing that might’ve had something to concern the home support was Cavan’s late rally of three points on the bounce.

Cavan’s manager, Mattie McGlennan, would’ve craved the same pattern to continue from the first half to the second. However, it was the total opposite as Donegal put over six in success to move 10 points in front. Leo McLoone and Jamie Brennan joined the Donegal captain in that six-point drive that stretched the lead out to 1-16 to 1-6.

Again, that looked like that; but Donegal took their foot off the pedal and Cavan halved their deficit with five points on the spin. Gearoid McKiernan, at full-forward, would score seven points and Cian Mackey slotted over a couple of frees.

Whilst Cavan were having bother with the likes of Murphy, Thompson, and Langan in Donegal’s forward line, one man they did seem to be handling with reasonably efficiency was McBrearty. However, he bossed the final 11 minutes or so, taking charge and his four points, as well as Mulligan’s goal, drove Donegal home.

Cavan did continue to add to the scoreboard themselves, some scores with little or no pressure on the man in possession, and that’s something that Donegal manager Bonner will have taken note of before they travel to Derry on May 27.

DONEGAL: S Patton; E Ban Gallagher, N McGee, C Ward (0-1); S McMenamin, P Brennan, R McHugh (1-0); H McFadden, L McLoone (0-1); C Thompson (0-3), M Langan (0-3), F McGlynn; P McBrearty (0-4), M Murphy (0-6, 3 frees), Jamie Brennan (0-2).

Subs: C McGinley for Thompson (52); E Doherty for McMenamin (57); Cian Mulligan (1-0) for McHugh (59); M McHugh for McGlynn (64); S McBrearty for J Brennan (67).

CAVAN: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, N Murray (0-1); K Brady, C Brady, C Moynagh; K Clarke, B Magee (0-1); C Mackey (0-2, frees), O Kiernan, E Flanagan; C O’Reilly (1-3, 3 frees), G McKiernan (0-7, 2 frees), C Bradley.

Subs. F Reilly for K Brady (20); N Clerkin for Murray ht; Adrian Cole (0-1) for Magee (43): Dara McVeety for Flanagan (52).

Referee: David Gough (Meath).

IT MATTERED 

Ryan McHugh’s goal put Donegal four points up in the 24th minute and although Cavan did cause them a couple of uneasy moments thereafter, the home team didn’t have to look over their shoulders that often.

CAN’T IGNORE 

Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty have some serious sidekicks in the Donegal forward line with Michael Langan, Jamie Brennan and Ciaran Thompson all showing well yesterday.

GOOD DAY 

Donegal have now gone 21 matches at Ballybofey in League and Championship unbeaten.

They’ve not lost since Down, on their way to the All-Ireland final, were extra-time victors in 2010.

BAD DAY 

Mattie McGleenan would’ve been content if he knew on Satuday night that his team would come to Ballybofey and score 1-15.

However, his men struggled to keep Donegal at bay at the other end. 

SIDELINE SMARTS

Cavan showed some great form to gain promotion to Division 1 but in a way they were always outsiders to win against a relegated Donegal in Ballybofey.

PHYSIO ROOM 

Paddy McGrath missed out with a calf injury following an earlier hamstring injury. It’s the first championship match the cornerback has missed since 2010.

BEST ON SHOW

Michael Murphy might have a spare room full of man of the match awards, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less deserving of yesterday’s having driven his team to victory in a roaming role.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

David Gough has hardly had a less stressful day with only five yellow cards in a game that was open and entertaining throughout.

WHERE NEXT

Donegal now take on neighbours Derry at Celtic Park on Sunday, May 27, while Cavan will have to make do with the quaifiers

TALKING POINT

Donegal’s more positive approach under Declan Bonner is certainly admirable but it will be tested to the max by the likes of Tyrone and Monaghan in Ulster. Time will tell.



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