WHEN IT WAS all over – the summer, the season and, in time for some, their inter-county careers – it hit hard and came with a chilling feeling.
Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10
It was an evening of what might have been for Donegal at headquarters. The tanks were empty and when Ciaran Branagan shrilled the whistle one last time, there was nothing left for Donegal to give.
Rory Gallagher’s team came with no-one giving them a chance, but the believed themselves and they clung on during those moments when Dublin threatened to steamroll.
Dublin had Diarmuid Connolly and Eoghan O’Gara sent off and Donegal were right in the mix until the substitute, Paul Mannion drilled home Dublin’s second goal; a strike that pierced Donegal right in the main artery.
Ryan McHugh’s goal had lifted Donegal from the point of no return and they gave Jim Gavin’s champions they test they so badly craved.
Dublin were playing with 13 men when Patrick McBrearty narrowed the margins to three points and Hill 16 shook with dread.[adrotate group=”38″]
Six minutes of added time were called, but that period was disrupted by stops and starts.
Ultimately, Dublin had the greater economy and Donegal might well feel they could have asked even more serious questions of the Dubs, particularly when they had the numerical advantage and remained within their shell.
Connolly had been booked for a ninth-minute jostle with Ryan McHugh when he went in high on Anthony Thompson and was, correctly, given a black card, accompanied by a red by referee Branagan.[adrotate group=”43″]
In stoppage time, Branagan – following consultation with his umpires – gave O’Gara a red after being alerted to an incident involving Neil McGee, though replays appeared to show that the decision was harsh.
Even when Mannion, after cutting through on a diagonal run, slotted past Mark Anthony McGinley for the Dublin goal, it wasn’t over and Michael Murphy’s goal attempt from a free deflected over in a blue-wedged goalmouth.
Murphy kicked five points, but was often under-utilised on the edge of the square, while the captain couldn’t have been aided by that moment in the 14th minute when he connected late to the face of Dublin midfielder Brian Fenton.[adrotate group=”81″]
Murphy – later involved in an incident with Jonny Cooper as they parted ways at half-time – could perhaps be deemed to have been fortunate not to escape the ultimate sanction, even if timing rather than intent was his crime.
The game seemed to have been at that point where it was beyond Donegal when the fuse was ignited by McHugh’s 42nd minute goal.
Substitute Leo McLoone had a major role in the move, a majestic flick setting Donegal on their way and the move concluded with Eamon McGee lofting across the square for McHugh to palm home.
It arrived right on cue for Donegal, who were on the verge of a standing eight count.[adrotate group=”68″]
Twice in the opening half, Donegal survived golden goal chance for Dublin – with Connolly on the end of both.
There were only 13 seconds gone when Connolly found himself one-on-one with McGinley, the Donegal goalkeeper. McGinley saved well to deny the Dublin attacker.
When Connolly was next in around the back, in the 16th minute, Dublin were just 0-2 to 0-1 ahead with Dean Rock (a ’45) and Philly McMahon firing over before Murphy landed a free.
Connolly, on this occasion, delicately rolled the ball beyond the advancing McGinley, but he was just wide of the far post as Hill 16 sensed blood.
Murphy converted a ’45 and the captain tucked over a free after Dublin hit three-in-a-row from Rock, Kevin McManamon and Ciaran Kilkenny.[adrotate group=”70″]
Dublin showed their worth in the latter part of the first half with Connolly scoring two sumptuous long-range points, one off his right boot from 45 metres and the other with his left from long range.
Connolly’s second point made it 0-9 to 0-4 at half-time, by which stage Donegal were ruing the nine wides they kicked in the first 35 minutes.
On the back of a stunning eleven-point haul last weekend against Cork, McBrearty was well marshalled in this one by Davey Byrne.
Late in the half, Paddy Andrews – who took the place of James McCarthy, bizarrely named in the Dublin team despite having a knee medial ligament injury – defied trigonometry.[adrotate group=”46″]
Andrews, from a position out on the Cusack Stand side, sailed over the black spot to raise the roof as Dublin stamped their prints upon the day.
Down the Hogan Stand’s tunnel they went with Donegal having 35 minutes to save their season.
They gave what they had and had the jitters creeping in, but just couldn’t summons a big finish from the reservoir and the looks, waves, sweat and tears from some could well be the last they spill whilst attired in Donegal regalia.
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh (1-0), Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Rory Kavanagh, Odhrán Mac Niallais; Anthony Thompson (0-1), Martin McElhinney, Eoin McHugh; Patrick McBrearty (0-3, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-6, 5f, 1 ‘45), Martin O’Reilly. Subs: Kieran Gillespie for Mac Niallais (half-time), Leo McLoone for Kavanagh (42), Christy Toye for Thompson (48), Mark McHugh for E.McGee (55), Ciaran Thompson for McElhinney (61), Colm McFadden for Lacey (70+1).
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Philly McMahon (0-1), Jonny Cooper (0-1), Davey Byrne; Ciaran Kilkenny (0-1), Cian O’Sullivan, John Small; Michael Darragh Macauley, Brian Fenton; Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon (0-3), Paddy Andrews (0-1); Dean Rock (0-5, 4f, 1 ‘45), Diarmuid Connolly (0-2), Bernard Brogan. Subs: Darren Daly for Brogan (48), Denis Bastick for Macauley (53), Paul Mannion (1-1) for Andrews (57), Eoghan O’Gara for McManamon (68), Eric Lowndes for Rock (73).
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down).