Galway 4-17 Donegal 0-14: Galway had never scored four goals against an Ulster team in championship football before but such was the ease with which they prised open the Donegal rearguard in Sligo on Saturday that they could have got double that haul.
If this was a crossroads fixture for these counties after provincial disappointment, then Galway, promoted after winning the Division 2 title, are very much back on main street.
But Donegal, not the first county to struggle to replace All-Ireland winners, look set for a period in the back streets, with manager Rory Gallagher facing an uncertain future just 10 months after being handed a three-year contract extension.
The bulk of the 10,564 crowd at Markievicz Park on Saturday evening were from Donegal and, to their credit, they stayed longer than most supporters would but the failure of anyone to come forward late in the evening and claim a lost Donegal season ticket provided a bit of black humour.
But moments of levity will be scarce when this performance is properly assessed in the weeks and months ahead and while it would be silly to read too much into one campaign, there is no doubt it could be some time before Donegal return as a serious force again.
Gallagher has been in sport long enough to know that this shocking display could trigger things and he adopted a philosophical approach when probed on what the fallout might be.
“Whatever comes, comes. I am around long enough, that’s the nature of it. All I will say, I am disappointed with today. You are disappointed with the Tyrone display.
“We haven’t played to the level we would have wanted in the championship but I knew it was going to be difficult.
“From day one we were carrying a huge panel. We took in a lot of fellas that were U-21. We know there is going to be a huge turnover, in the last couple of years it started gradually.
“The reality is you can’t continue to play for Donegal from 2003, ’04 and still be playing 2017, ’18, it’s not easy,” he said.
For Galway, the focus now is joining their hurlers in the All-Ireland semi-finals next month.
Galway supporters didn’t travel in big numbers on Saturday following a big fallout in the county after the heavy Connacht final defeat to Roscommon and the way Kevin Walsh and his management team got their side prepped for this one is to their credit.
It was as if the Connacht final never happened once they got on the front foot when Johnny Heaney palmed to the net after good approach work by Sean Armstrong and Ian Burke.
The latter two probably sum up why this could be a summer when Galway football pushes on. Armstrong was persuaded to return to the panel and his experience is crucial, having been badly missed when he was injured for the Connacht final.
Burke’s emergence on the scene is overdue. A superb underage talent and a key performer for Corofin, for some reason he and the Galway senior team were not able to align in recent years.
They have now, and he produced a superb display in his first start.
He’s the sort of player who could do damage next Sunday with this elusive and intelligent running.
The introduction of another promising young star Cillian McDaid in the second half was another step forward for Galway, while the return of Michael Meehan to championship football is surely one of the keynotes of this season given the lengths the gifted Caltra man has had to go to overcome — or perhaps just deal with — a troublesome ankle injury.
There was little between them in the opening quarter and with Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty having their radar sorted, a Donegal win seemed the most likely when they led by 0-5 to 0-4 against the breeze after 16 minutes.
But then Heaney struck and when a short kickout from Mark Anthony McGinley, which was intended for Murphy, went askew and he ended up tripping Tom Flynn and getting a black card, Donegal’s day crumbled.
Liam Silke nested the penalty in the bottom right corner after 25 minutes and replacement goalkeeper Peter Boyle was fishing for the ball in the net for a second time just before the break when Heaney was again in the right place to score from close range and make it 3-9 to 0-7.
The black cards to Murphy and Martin McElhinney when they had all their subs used just made a bad situation worse for Donegal after 48 minutes.
Then McBrearty, one of their few leading lights along with sub Martin O’Reilly, had a penalty saved by Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power — recalled beforehand at the expense of Ruairi Lavelle — and the rebound was also blocked. It was that sort of evening for Donegal and it ended badly when Danny Cummins got Galway’s fourth goal, a new milestone for a county who last scored three against Ulster opposition when they defeated Donegal in the 1974 All-Ireland semi-final.
Back then it took Donegal nine years to get back to Croke Park for championship football. It might not be that long this time, but it could take a while.
Scorers for Galway:
J Heaney (2-2); S Armstrong (0-6, 4 frees); L Silke (pen); D Cummins (1-0 each); G O’Donnell, E Brannigan (0-2 each); S Walsh, P Conroy, I Burke, D Comer, M Daly (0-1 each).
Scorers for Donegal:
P McBrearty (0-6, 2 frees); M Murphy (0-4, 3 frees, 0-1 45); M O’Reilly (0-2); M McElhinney, M Langan (0-1 each).
B Power, E Kerin, D Kyne, C Sweeney; G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw, L Silke; P Conroy, T Flynn; J Heaney, M Daly, S Armstrong; I Burke, D Comer, S Walsh.
D Wynne for Sweeney (60, black card), E Brannigan for Walsh (60), D Cummins for Daly (63), M Meehan for Comer (68), D Walsh for Bradshaw (72), C McDaid for O’Donnell (72).
M A McGinley; C Ward, K Gillespie, N McGee; E B Gallagher, R McHugh, P McGrath; J McGee, M Murphy; M McHugh, E McHugh, F McGlynn; J Brennan, H McFadden, P McBrearty.
P Boyle for McGinley (25, black card), M Langan for Brennan (35), M McElhinney for McGlynn (36), K Lacey for Gillespie (half-time), C Thompson for McFadden (42), M O’Reilly for E McHugh (42).
Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).
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