AS Declan Bonner and his Donegal players huddled moments after this four-point defeat their minds were already turned to the Championship.
Donegal 1-14 Dublin 1-18
By Chris McNulty at Kingspan Breffni Park
Indeed, the heads were focussed on the Ulster SFC opener with Down long before the bus pulled out from Donegal earlier today.
Paddy Small’s goal in the 30th minute was the big score for Dublin in a tepid clash that had nothing at stake – this even had the quirk of being a semi-final that couldn’t offer the carrot of a final place.
Kerry’s 6-15 to 1-14 win over Tyrone in Killarney a little earlier in the evening, removed the prospect of a Division 1 final. Kerry, like Donegal, are in Championship action in a fortnight’s time; a schedule that means there won’t be a Division 1 decider.
On the half-hour, Small struck neatly after rounding Shaun Patton when fed cleverly by Cormac Costello.
Patrick McBrearty’s six points kept Donegal in touch, but Small’s goal had the Dubs with sufficient breathing space.
Oisin Gallen might have put a hole in Donegal’s deficit, but Evan Comerford’s save denied the Mac Cumhaills man.
At the other end, Con O’Callaghan had a sniff of a goal chance, but he elected to fire over and keep the board ticking.
Late in the game, Eoghan McGettigan finished to the net after good work by Tony McClenaghan, but it was a mere footnote in the tale of this tape.
Small was key at both ends for the Dubs in the opening half.
After posting a point at one end to pull his team to within a point, Small’s interception denied Donegal a big goal chance in the 15th minute.
Michael Langan fetched an Evan Comerford kick-out but, with Odhrán Mac Niallais beginning to eye up the target, Small intervened.
Cormac Costello clipped over a free to draw the Dubs level, but Donegal parted for the first-half water break in front, 0-5 to 0-4, thanks to Caolan McGonagle’s point.
Donegal had an early moment of panic when Langan was dispossessed and, with Donegal ‘keeper Shaun Patton well off his line, Niall Scully curled wide of the target.
Odhrán Mac Niallais, making his first start since his return to the county jersey, stroked over a neat point to restore Donegal’s advantage, but the Gaoth Dobhair man was withdrawn injured soon after. Stephen McMenamin, who took a knock during the first half, was removed from the equation at half-time.
Dublin led for the first time when Con O’Callaghan fisted over in the 26th minute and within four minutes they were in front by five.
Bonner indicated during the week that, with the Down clash looming large on his horizon, there would be no chances taken.
With captain Michael Murphy already sidelined, full-back Neil McGee wasn’t risked for this one.
Bonner made six changes to the team that had been named named, with Odhrán McFadden-Ferry coming in for his first appearance since returning from a tour of duty with the army in Lebanon.
Ciaran Kilkenny’s second point of the game had Dublin seven in front with only three minutes played in the second half, but McBrearty landed a trio at the other end to keep Donegal on their coat tails.
Dublin widened the margin to eight points when sub Aaron Byrne pointed ten minutes from the end, but Donegal reeled it in, with McGettigan’s goal ensuring a respectable conclusion for a game that will be quickly forgotten.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Eoin McHugh, Stephen McMenamin, Brendan McCole (0-1); Ethan O’Donnell, Ryan McHugh, Odhrán McFadden-Ferry; Caolan McGonagle, Michael Langan (0-2); Ciarán Thompson, Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-1), Hugh McFadden; Patrick McBrearty (0-6, 2f, 1m), Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Oisin Gallen. Subs: Conor O’Donnell for Mac Niallais (28), Caolan Ward for McMenamin (half-time), Eoghan McGettigan (1-1) for Gallen (54), Eunan Doherty for McFadden-Ferry (54), Daire Ó Baoill for N.O’Donnell (56), Jason McGee for McFadden (56), Tony McClenaghan for E.McHugh (63).
Dublin: Evan Comerford; Michael Fitzsimons, David Byrne, Sean McMahon (0-1); James McCarthy, Eoin Murchan, Brian Howard (0-1); Brian Fenton (0-1), Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne; Paddy Small (1-3, 1m), Ciaran Kilkenny (0-2), Niall Scully; Colm Basquel, Con O’Callaghan (0-3), Cormac Costello (0-6, 5f, 1 ’45). Subs: Eric Lowndes for Murchin (half-time), Seán Bugler for Basquel (50), Tom Lahiff for Ó Cofaigh Byrne (54), Aaron Byrne (0-1) for Scully (54), Philly McMahon for Fitzsimons (61), Conor McHugh for Kilkenny (61), Shane Carthy for Small (68).
Referee: Ciaran Brannigan (Down)