Donegal 2-5 Dublin 1-8: No harm to either team’s unbeaten records, but no foul, either — how Ciaran Branagan felt Donegal had earned a last-gasp free to tie this game was mystifying.
A draw might have been a fair result, but the end didn’t justify the decision. Dublin had to settle for a share of the spoils against Ulster opposition for the second round running. Dublin won’t be too bothered. Their unbeaten run, across league and championship, was stretched to 32 games, and by next Saturday’s game, at home to Mayo, it will have been extended to two years. With Niall Scully’s 54th-minute strike, Dublin also scored their first goal from open play since Paul Mannion’s effort in the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Donegal, last year, breaking a barren spell of 450 minutes.
On that occasion, Ryan McHugh found the net against Dublin, as he did in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. He did so again here, scoring the second of two goals inside 60 seconds towards the end of the first-half.
Donegal, similar to Kerry last August, showed that Dublin can be vulnerable in such a period, particularly after conceding a goal. Following Jason McGee’s scrappy three-pointer, Donegal seized on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out, and their attack, which threatened to break down at one stage, finished with McHugh’s cool, low finish to Cluxton’s bottom-right corner.
The score gave Donegal a flattering, 2-3 to 0-7 lead at half-time, an advantage they only surrendered when Scully finished off a lightning string of hand-passes, even more impressive given the poor weather conditions. A Davy Byrne point followed the goal, eight minutes later, but Donegal secured a draw with a Ciaran Thompson free, followed by Murphy’s controversial late effort.
Donegal will be content that their fine unbeaten record in Ballybofey, which now extends to 16 matches and back to 2010, was maintained by a team that is clearly learning on its feet. The manner in which they transformed what could have been an embarrassing opening-round loss into a reasonable three points was backed by a gutsy win over Roscommon and here they defied the odds.
“It is encouraging,” said Rory Gallagher of his side’s performance. “You come in with so many young players. It is daunting. You take Jason Whelan out on Brian Fenton, who has been one of the best midfielders in the last number of years, and you have Ciaran Thompson, Michael Carroll, Caolan Ward, Jamie Brennan, and boys like that, who have very limited experience, and we want to accrue as many wins as possible with those boys on the team. The likes of Mark Anthony (McGinley) played three games last year, Eoghan Ban, and Ciaran Thompson played, and we want those guys to start getting wins under their belt.
“I am happy with the character shown. The most disappointing thing was the 15 minutes either side of half-time against Kerry, when I thought we did throw in the towel. Sometimes, when you have a team coming, you have to go through that and see why it happened. Look, we showed a lot of naivete in conceding the goal today, but in terms of work-rate, commitment, and effort shown, it was very positive.”
Up to the goals, the game followed a repetitive pattern, with Dublin patiently working the ball across the field in search of a chink in Donegal’s armour. Some of the visitors’ shooting was off, but they did string together five points without reply, after McGee had opened the scoring for Donegal in the 31st second.
Shane Carthy, Dean Rock (free), Ciarán Kilkenny, Conor McHugh, and Scully all pointed, before Thompson’s first free ended a 26-minute scoring drought for Donegal. The soft sod was affecting the quality of football, but Donegal were committing few up front. Eoin McHugh and Jamie Brennan alternated as the sole attacker in the full-forward line.
Neil McGee and Caolan Ward were impressive in holding Dublin out, but the ball was coming back at them often, as Donegal failed to commit sufficient numbers when they advanced. That was the case until McGee initiated the attack for his goal, in the 33rd minute. His shot was tame, but he had the presence of mind to follow it up and square the ball. Jamie Brennan miscued his shot, but McGee had followed the play and managed to stroke it past Stephen Cluxton.
McHugh’s follow-up goal threatened to spook Dublin, but they regrouped at the interval and, with some key changes in their forward line, improved in the second-half. This was evidenced by Scully’s goal and that they kept Donegal scoreless for 27 minutes. Jim Gavin said of the score: “Impressive handling in those conditions and great support play. Against a team like Donegal, even to score 1-5 against them and I think we limited them to three points in the second-half, and they were often frees, as well...
“We’ll go back on the bus, and not that we’re content — we always want to eke out a good performance — but in these conditions, against Donegal in Ballybofey, it’s a point and you’ll take that.”
Scorers for Donegal:
J. McGee (1-1); R. McHugh (1-0); C. Thompson, M. Murphy (0-2 frees each).
Scorers for Dublin:
N. Scully (1-1); D. Rock (0-3, frees); S. Carthy, C. Kilkenny, C. McHugh, D. Byrne (0-1 each).
M.A. McGinley; P. McGrath, N. McGee, C. Ward; E. Bán Gallagher, P. Brennan, R. McHugh; J. McGee, C. Thompson; M. Carroll, M. Murphy (c), M. O’Reilly; F. McGlynn, E. McHugh, J. Brennan.
Subs for Donegal:
H. McFadden for J. Brennan (40); D. O’Connor for P. Brennan (45); E. Doherty for M. Carroll (58); S. McBrearty for E. McHugh (63).
S. Cluxton (c); P. McMahon, M. Fitzsimons, D. Daly; E. Lowndes, J. McCaffrey, J. Small; B. Fenton, C. Reddin; S. Carthy, C. Kilkenny, N. Scully; D. Rock, E. O’Gara, C. McHugh.
Subs for Dublin:
P. Flynn for S. Carthy, M.D. Macauley for C. Reddin (both 42); K. McManamon for E. O’Gara (44); D. Byrne for J. McCaffrey (inj 57); J. Whelan for C. McHugh (62); E Ó Conghaile for D. Daly (69).
C. Branagan (Down).
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