DONEGAL MANAGED to get over the line against Clare in the opening fixture of the Allianz League Division 2 at Cusack Park in Ennis – but they were made fight till the bitter end.
Clare 0-13 Donegal 0-16
Donegal were far from impressive and having led three times by three points in the first half, fell behind in the second half as they couldn’t get to grips with Gary Brennan in particular, the Clare captain, and David Tubridy, the scorer of six points.
All in all, a win is a win on the first of Donegal’s three trips to Munster – they’ve Tipperary next month and then Cork in March – and the management team can at least be content in the fact they got themselves out of an awkward situation in Ennis.
Clare were game throughout and almost got back to 0-14 to 0-14 in the last minute, only for sub Gavin Cooney to shoot wide. Late points from Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee sealed it for Donegal, while Jamie Brennan’s scores helped weather the storm in the final 10 minutes.
It was Michael Langan who opened the scoring with a first minute free before Clare struck back through Brennan and then a free from Keelen Sexton.
The Clare full-forward, Sexton, was out of luck on six minutes when he got free from Cathal O’Connor’s fetched ball at midfield and pass, only to smash the ball into Shaun Patton’s side-netting in a one-on-one situation with the Donegal goalkeeper.
But scores from Langan, another two frees, Ciaran Thompson’s brace and a point on the run from Eoghan Ban Gallagher had the visitors 0-6 to 0-3 up on 13 minutes, with Dean Ryan the scorer of Clare’s third point.
Brennan, allowed to run too freely again by the Donegal defence, pulled one back for Clare on the 20th minute. Langan’s fourth free of the half was traded with a fine score from Dermot Coughlan of Clare, making it 0-7 to 0-6 on 23 minutes. David Tubridy, the hosts’ corner-forward, brought Clare’s total up to the half-dozen.
After Sexton missed a free to level, Jamie Brennan opened his account for the afternoon on the half-hour. David Tubridy’s second score of the first 35 minutes brought the Banner County back to within one before levelling it up at 0-8 to 0-8 with a free on 33 minutes.
So, after a bright enough opening, it was a sloppy conclusion to the half for Bonner’s team. But scores in first half injury time from Jason McGee and Niall O’Donnell did, at least, leave a cushion at 0-10 to 0-8 in front.
Donegal are planning without Michael Murphy and Frank McGlynn for the opening stages of the league campaign, with the Gaoth Dobhair contingent unavailable ahead of their All-Ireland SFC Club semi-final against Corofin next month.
Paddy McGrath is on 99 appearances for the county but wasn’t named, Stephen McMenamin in the wake of Red Hugh’s loss in the All-Ireland JFC semi-final against Easkey from Sligo last weekend was on the bench till the latter stages. Patrick McBrearty and Eoin McHugh, the Kilcar duo, were out with respective cruciate and hamstring injuries.
Those who were were on the field were still struggling to cope with Clare’s Brennan, who charged at the Donegal defence right at the outset of part two, He was fouled and Tubridy popped over the free before the same player made it 0-10 to 0-10 when he shrugged off Conor Morrison on 37 minutes. Clare would’ve gone ahead for the first time, only for Cathal O’Connor to shoot wide when the chance arose.
Clare did go ahead for only the second time, on 41 minutes, when Brennan was again the instrumental party. He got in on goal and drew Patton out in the claustrophobic surroundings and Morrison, playing the role of goalkeeper, touched the ball over the crossbar for the concession of a point when it could have been a goal.
It was a very uneasy start to the second half for Donegal.
They were getting snatchy and kicked five second half wides in succession before Jason McGee finally found the target, levelling it ip on 46 minutes at 0-11 each. Martin McElhinney was introduced and Leo McLoone was summoned to warm-up as Caolan McGonagle nailed an excellent long-range free to put the Ulster champions one up. Moments later, the Buncrana native was out of luck with a second attempt as his effort cannoned down off the upright.
McElhinney drifted a ball wide – Donegal’s seventh in 20 second half minutes – as back-pedalling Clare goalkeeper Robert Eyres struck his head off the goalpost. He was helped from the field, walking off but perhaps concussed to be replaced by Eamonn Tubridy.
Jamie Brennan, on the run when play resumed, edged Donegal into a two-point lead at 0-13 to 0-11 with 10 minutes to play. And when the Bundoran forward added another seconds later, finally there seemed to be a little bit of breathing space.
Three became two – Clare’s arrears that is – when David Tubridy reached six points for the day. Then, Cooney, only on, scored and Clare were once more back to just one down at 0-14 to 0-13 as eight minutes injury time was signalled. Cooney, with only his second touch, was off the mark in a bid to grab a share of the spoils.
Donegal held their head and McFadden and the McGee got them home.
Clare: Robert Eyres; Kevin Harnett, Cillian Brennan, Gordon Kelly; Dean Ryan (0-1), Aaron Fitzgerald, Eoghan Collins; Gary Brennan (0-3), Cathal O’Connor; Cian O’Dea, Jamie Malone, Dermot Coughlan (0-1); Kieran Malone, Keelan Sexton (0-1f), David Tubridy (0-6, 3f). Subs: Pearse Lillis for E Collins (48), Sean Collins for Malone (54), Eamonn Tubridy for Eyres (58), Darragh Bohannon for Malone (62), Gavin Cooney (0-1) for Coughlan (66)
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Conor Morrison, Caolan Ward, Brendan McCole; Paul Brennan, Eamonn Doherty, Eoghan Ban Gallagher (0-1); Hugh McFadden (0-1), Jason McGee (0-3); Ciaran Thompson (0-2), Ryan McHugh, Caolan McGonagle (0-1, 1f); Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Michael Langan (0-4, 4f), Jamie Brennan (0-3).Subs: Martin McElhinney for P Brennan (42), Leo McLoone for McGonagle (56), Stephen McMenamin for Gallagher (66), Peadar Mogan for Doherty (70+9)
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry).