Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10: Grace under fire wouldn’t be the aptest way to sum up this latest addition to Dublin’s unbeaten league and championship run of 26 matches. In football terms, Donegal were hardly pyromaniacs and as regards discipline Jim Gavin’s side weren’t so poised.
Yet in the face of a sucker punch goal and the loss of Diarmuid Connolly to a second yellow card with almost 30 minutes of action left, Dublin’s cool didn’t escape them.
Substitute Eoghan O’Gara also saw the line for a late incident involving Neil McGee and Brian Fenton was black carded in the dying seconds, which briefly saw them down to 12 men, and yet Dublin looked more than able to cope with their numerical disadvantage. “Intentfulness” was the new word Gavin used to describe his team’s efforts.
Paul Mannion capped the win with an injury-time goal as Donegal, understandably in their desperation, abandoned their shape. Yet even when one man to the good they found Dublin almost impenetrable.
Goal chances came a-knocking for Dublin in the opening 20 minutes when Connolly twice went close, Mark Anthony McGinley blocking him out after just 13 seconds and then his left-footed effort going just wide of the post.
At the other end, Donegal were missing chance after chance after chance although a lot of their shooting was from distance and pressurised situations. “I think we had nine wides and three into the ‘keeper’s hands,” rued Rory Gallagher. “Some reasonable positions as well. I think the time Anthony put the ball over the bar there was possibly a goal chance on. To beat Dublin you have to take everything and that was disappointing.”
Thompson’s decision in that instance could be understood, though. Coming in the 33rd minute, it was Donegal’s first score from play. Almost all the while, Donegal were gifting Dublin their restarts and allowing Stephen Cluxton the space to generate attacks. So many of Dublin’s nine first-half points came in the 20 seconds or so following a Cluxton restart.
“It’s very difficult to have men back and it’s very difficult to push up,” Gallagher tried to explain.
“Stephen Cluxton is the best in the business. We made a decision that if we weren’t pushed up, we’d just concede it and make sure we were well set up and for long periods of the first-half that worked.
When we had a free-kick and the play was slowed and we got our players up, we squeezed up and we won the first couple of them so that was the thinking behind it.” Donegal trailed by five points at half-time, by six before Ryan McHugh palmed to the net in the 42nd minute, a goal worked so well by sub Leo McLoone and then Éamon McGee sending a looping hand-pass across the small parallelogram. Suddenly, the game became a game again.
“It was a brilliant goal we scored,” Gallagher recalled.
“That’s something we felt we tried to do, open up the middle of their defence. And it was a great goal that put us in a good position having coming out at half-time and conceded the first two points, 11-4 down, we showed great courage, we got back to 12 to 1-6 or 11 to 1-5 and then 12 to 1-6.”
Back Dublin came, though, with a Dean Rock free. Paddy McBrearty, so quiet in contrast to the Cork game, responded with one of his own before Connolly was shown a second yellow card for his high foul on Thompson.
Donegal looked to be in clover once more and when Murphy sent over a free the gap was cut to three again but the next two scores were Dublin’s via Kevin McManamon and Jonny Cooper. At the other end, Donegal searched in vain for a second goal but Dublin would not be breached and it was Mannion who capitalised on that yearning.
“We’re very confident in what we do,” glowed Gavin. “We’re a very attack-minded team. We practise a lot on the training field on the skills and the scoring but we also pay due diligence to our defence and the boys have worked hard on it all year. Through those nine league games as well, we were always tested and I think we’ve learned a lot from that as well. The same again today, that learning that we will take today will give us a road-map to the next game.”
As he looked ahead to Kerry on August 28 and the much-held theory they haven’t been stretched, Gavin spoke in defence of the Leinster championship in preparing Dublin.
“I don’t think people probably give Leinster football the credit it deserves. I see first-hand the work and diligence the Dublin players put into those preparation pieces for games. The evidence is in front of me, I know how hard they prepare in the shadows of these games and sometimes there’s a perception they turn up to a Leinster game and the result just happens. We know it doesn’t.
“ That’s what we can trade off going into these games, that we have tested ourselves and, again, we’re not looking for a hard game. Each game we play, we’re hard on ourselves and we’ll certainly reflect on what we did well there today and try to improve on it also. Kerry I’m sure, whatever games they’ve played, would have prepared really well for them. They know themselves that those performances don’t come just on the back of turning up.
“ I’m sure they had a good look at us today in the Leinster campaign as well so we have a bit of catching up to do but we’ll close that gap in the next number of weeks.”
Scorers for Dublin: D. Rock (0-5, 4 frees, 1 45); P. Mannion (1-1); K. McManamon (0-3); D. Connolly (0-2); P. McMahon, C. Kilkenny, P. Andrews, J. Cooper (0-1).
Scorers for Donegal: M. Murphy (0-6, 5 frees, 1 45); R. McHugh (1-0); P. McBrearty (0-3, 2 frees); A. Thompson (0-1).
DUBLIN: S. Cluxton (c); P. McMahon, D. Byrne; C. O’Sullivan; J. Cooper, C. Kilkenny, J. Small; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; P. Flynn, K. McManamon, D. Connolly; B. Brogan, P. Andrews, D. Rock
Subs: D. Daly for B. Brogan (48); D. Bastick for M.D. Macauley (53); P. Mannion for P. Andrews (57); M. Fitzsimons for J. Cooper (blood, 68-70+5); E. O’Gara for K. McManamon (68); E. Lowndes for D. Rock (70+4); M. Fitzsimons for B. Fenton (black, 70+7).
Sent off: D. Connolly (second yellow, 47); E. O’Gara (straight, 70+3).
DONEGAL: M.A. McGinley; É. McGee, N. McGee; M. O’Reilly, P. McGrath, A. Thompson; F. McGlynn; R. Kavanagh, Ó Mac Niallais; K. Lacey, E. McHugh, R. McHugh; P. McBrearty, M. Murphy (c).
Subs: C. Gillespie for O. Mac Niallais (h-t); L. McLoone for R. Kavanagh (42); C. Toye for A. Thompson (inj 48); M. McHugh for É McGee (56); C. Thompson for M. McElhinney (61); C. McFadden for K. Lacey (70+1).
Referee: C. Branagan (Down).
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