Donegal 2-22 Down 1-12
Down supporters at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones began to fear the worst when their team lost 10 of their opening kick-outs in yesterday’s one-sided Ulster SFC semi-final against Donegal.
And so it would prove.
The victors were utterly dominant from start to finish and, if anything, the 13-point margin between the counties does a disservice to Declan Bonner’s side, who will go into the Ulster final as red-hot favourites in a fortnight against Fermanagh.
Down can only hope the qualifier draw is a kind one given the sharks lurking there at present.
Goals from Leo McLoone and man-of-the-match Jamie Brennan arrived either side of the break in front of a crowd of 12,051 as Donegal began both halves with statements of intent.
In the first they racked up 1-8 before Down managed so much as a point. In the second they mustered 1-4 without reply.
And much of this was without their three-time All-Star Neil McGee, who was given a straight red card in the 14th minute.
“We started well, there is no doubt we did,” said Bonner. “We got scores on the board and the threat was coming from all over the park and the lads are playing with that bit of freedom. You would have to say that Down didn’t put the challenge to us.
The variation in Donegal’s attacks was breathless at times. Right from the throw-in, their football was refreshing and Paul Brennan’s point after just 80 seconds was the conclusion of a flowing and patient move that outfoxed Down, who lined up with 14 men behind the ball with Connaire Harrison a lonely figure at the other end of the pitch.
Not that lonely, though. McGee and Harrison were booked by Anthony Nolan in the early stages for an off-the-ball incident. Then, with Donegal 0-4 to 0-0 up, Harrison and his own teammate Darren O’Hagan collided with one another by the stand at the Pat McGrane side and McGee fell on top of the Down full-forward, leading with his knee.
Nolan, who consulted with linesman Sean Laverty, opted to send off the Donegal full-back, who will now be suspended for the final.
Eventually, Hugh McFadden would drop back in from midfield with Murphy slotting back and Caolan Ward tasked with handling Harrison.
But the changes at the back for Donegal weren’t as relevant, with their attack so impressive. McLoone’s goal arrived on 22 minutes and owed a lot to his quick-thinking, slotting past Marc Reid as the ball cannoned down off the upright after Ciaran Thompson had shot for a point.
That made the score 1-7 to 0-0 and Ryan McHugh’s sweet effort with the outside of the boot moments later showed the gulf in class.
Down couldn’t get out of their half as Donegal smothered the midfield.
In the 26th minute Down finally got a white flag waving through Caolan Mooney and their finish to the half was credible, with Harrison, Donal O’Hare, and Conor Maginn all on the mark. Peter Turley had a glorious goal chance but dithered and ended up fluffing a punch wide.
Again, Donegal began the second half with intent and Murphy popped over a fine score. Patrick McBrearty, who would finish the afternoon with six points, kept things ticking over and Jamie Brennan’s goal on 45 minutes heaped on the misery.
Reid had little option from the tee, despite his team’s numerical advantage, and went long from a kick-out. Murphy was on hand to gather at midfield and Thompson set McHugh away and he selflessly set-up Brennan to score Donegal’s second goal for a 2-16 to 0-7 lead.
Donegal were creating goal chances at will and, if anything, they were overplaying. Brennan was unlucky not to add a second goal as he hit the butt of the post as Reid came from his line. Then, Stephen McMenamin somehow only slapped over with Odhran MacNiallais and Brennan creating the chance. Brennan, ably assisted by Murphy and McFadden, probably should’ve done better than a point.
One of the few bright sparks for Down came in the 75th minute with a well-taken Niall Donnelly goal to reduce the margin of the drubbing.
But there was no complaints from the Mourne men.
“When McGee went off, they’re a very experienced side, they know how to play with 14 men,” said Down boss Eamonn Burns.
“They’re well organised up the field and they leave two men up the field who are very potent so they handled that situation quite well. I’m not going to stand here and say it’s not going to be difficult to get players up for the qualifiers, it is going to be difficult but that’s our job.”
Scorers for Donegal: J Brennan 1-3; P McBrearty (3f) 0-6; M Murphy (3f) 0-5; L McLoone 1-0; P Brennan, R McHugh 0-2 each; C Ward, C Thompson, S McMenamin, M McHugh 0-1 each.
Scorers for Down: N Donnelly 1-1 C Harrison, D O’Hare (3f) 0-4 each; C Maginn 0-2; C Mooney 0-1.
DONEGAL: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, E Gallagher; C Ward, P Brennan, F McGlynn; H McFadden, M Murphy; C Thompson, R McHugh, L McLoone; P McBrearty, M Langan, J Brennan.
Subs: D Ó Baoill for Langan (44), O Mac Niallais for McLoone (49), C Mulligan for Thompson (49), S McMenamin for Gallagher (54), M McHugh for McGlynn (58), E Doherty for P. Brennan (65).
DOWN: M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty; D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, S Millar; D O’Hare, C Harrison, R Millar.
Subs: R Johnston for R Millar (b/c, 21), R Wells for McParland (h/t), S Dornan for S.Millar (b/c, 36), D McKibben for Turley (55), J Flynn for McKibben (b/c, 66).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).
Donegal were in control from the off but it was Leo McLoone’s 22nd-minute goal that confirmed their early dominance
Michael Murphy was pipped by some to the man-of-the-match award but played a monumental role in taking his team over the line.
Marc Reid, the Down goalkeeper, had a difficult day from kick-outs with Donegal completely and utterly on top for long spells in that area
With the matches coming thick and fast in Ulster and indeed the qualifiers, both managers admitted afterwards there were a few niggles but nothing outstanding ahead of their next day out.
Neil McGee’s straight red card means he will now miss out on an eighth appearance in an Ulster final. Whether Donegal appeal or not remains to be seen, according to manager Declan Bonner. Down manager Eamonn Burns admitted his side did not make any use whatsoever of their numerical advantage.
BEST ON SHOW
Jamie Brennan put in an impressive showing alongside Patrick McBrearty in the Donegal full-forward line, scoring 1-3 and contributing much else besides.
His, and Donegal’s workrate, were evident in second half injury time as he ran back from his corner-forward berth to win a turnover.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Anthony Nolan, the match referee, took on the advice of linesman Sean Laverty before dishing out Neil McGee’s red card. The intensity of the contest lessened the further Donegal went ahead.
Donegal take on Fermanagh in a novel Ulster final pairing on Sunday, June 24, while Down await the draw for the qualifiers.
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