ON A day when the sun beamed down on the Mournes, an ice pack became the story of the day.
Down 1-12 Donegal 2-25
By Chris McNulty at Páirc Esler. Pictures by Evan Logan
Donegal had 16 points to spare as they eased past Down and into an Ulster SFC quarter-final, but Michael Murphy’s injury remains the lingering issue after the captain was forced off with a little less than half-an-hour played.
Murphy, hampered by a hamstring complaint for the last month, watched on with his left leg strapped with an ice pack.
Derry are due in Ballybofey in a fortnight’s time for a quarter-final. Already, Murphy’s fitness seems certain to dominate the pre-match build-up.
His replacement, Jamie Brennan, thundered past Rory Burns in the 34th minute to put Donegal ten in front at the break.
The Bundoran man, also absent from recent squads due to an injury, made an almost instant impact. Brennan shrugged off the pressure of Ryan McEvoy before riffling high to the Down net.
Patrick McBrearty top-scored for Donegal, firing in a 61st minute goal, adding to the six points already aside his name. The Kilcar man was Donegal’s chief marksman in the League and continued that form with an efficient outing here.
Caolan Mooney did goal for Down, who had to play the last 22 minutes with 14 men after Gerard McGovern, their full-back, was sent off for a high hit on Michael Langan.
Patton brilliantly denied Down sub Stephen McConville with a remarkable save to claw away his late attempt at close range, just after McBrearty finished at the other end.
The outcome was long since sealed by then.
Murphy scored two points and had his paws over much of Donegal’s early play.
The Glenswilly man limped off after only five minutes of the Allianz League game against Monaghan last month. Since then, questions were asked in hushed tones over his fitness.
When Michael Langan took responsibility for a 29th minute free on the left-hand side and Brennan de-bibbed on the sideline, it was clear what was coming: the board went up and Murphy headed for the stand.
Donegal, though, hit 1-3 before half-time to take a comfortable 1-15 to 0-8 lead into the interval, McBrearty knocking over a free with the final kick of the half.
In a semi-final last year, Down were stunned when Cavan eroded a ten-point lead to pip them at the post. Here, though, their task seemed as much impossible as improbable.
Five minutes into the second half, Caolan Mooney drilled past Patton after taking a pass from Liam Kerr.
Patton saved from McEvoy and O’Hagan blasted wide of the far post as Paddy Tally’s men started to ask some questions, but any chance of a comeback were completely dashed when McGovern was dismissed.
Donegal had to chew over the remnants of the 2020 final defeat by Cavan over the last eight months. Hugh McFadden, the Donegal midfielder, mentioned during the week how that loss was ‘something that we’ll never make peace with in one way’.
Donegal were stung hard after being caught by the Breffni and their quest to reach a 10th Ulster final in 11 years was tested with their ball drawn in the preliminary round.
They began with purpose.
McBrearty prodded Donegal in front after 80 seconds, slotting over after the customary spin onto the left boot.
Donegal raced into a four-point lead with Murphy’s brace followed by a neat McHugh score.
McHugh, with his usual zip looking back again, nipped over his second, but Down began to gather some momentum, spurred on by O’Hagan.
Both a Peadar Mogan point and the accompanying water break were gladly received by Donegal to regroup a little, only for O’Hagan to bring the Mournes to within a point.
Donegal clicked the gears to widen the margin.
Murphy’s absence had little affect on the outcome here, but his fitness will remain a central them another couple of weeks.
Donegal can only hope that his withdrawal was precautionary for time is not on the side of a weak hamstring.
Down: Rory Burns; Peter Fegan, Gerard McGovern, Gerard Collins; Pierce Laverty, Darren O’Hagan (0-1), Daniel Guinness; Caolan Mooney (1-0), Ryan McEvoy; Liam Kerr (0-2, 1f), Ceilium Doherty, Barry O’Hagan (0-8, 3f, 1m); Conor McCrickard, Liam Middleton, Corey Quinn. Subs: Stephen McConville for McEvoy (42), Danny Savage for Middleton (42), James Guinness (0-1) for Kerr (45). Cormac McCartan for Fegan (55), Kevin McKernan for McCrickard (58).
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Brendan McCole, Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin; Ryan McHugh (0-4), Odhrán McFadden-Ferry, Eoghan Bán Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Caolan McGonagle; Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Michael Langan (0-4, 1f, 1 ’45); Patrick McBrearty (1-6, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-2, 1f), Peadar Mogan (0-3). Subs: Eoin McHugh (0-1) for McCole (26), Jamie Brennan (1-1) for Murphy (29), Ethan O’Donnell (0-1) for Thompson (52), Conor O’Donnell (0-1) for N.O’Donnell (55), Paul Brennan for McGee (63).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).Tags: