Jamie Brennan’s goal fired Donegal to victory in the Allianz League Division 2 final as Declan Bonner’s side eked past the Royals.
Donegal 1-17 Meath 1-15
Report by Chris McNulty at Croke Park. Pictures by Evan Logan
Donegal made hard work of it and had to come from eight points down in the first quarter-of-an-hour before finishing well.
Donegal led for the first time in the 57th minute as Brennan polished off an excellent Donegal move with a thunderous finish. Niall O’Donnell’s majestic pass into Oisin Gallen opened the possibilities.
Via Gallen and Man of the Match Michael Murphy, Donegal quickly transferred to Brennan and the Bundoran man crashed past Meath ‘keeper Andrew Colgan.
A Barry Dardis ’45 appeared to have plugged the leaks for Meath as Donegal smelled blood in the second half.
However, Donegal inched back. O’Donnell and Murphy, from a mark, took them closer and 18-year-old Gallen curled over a delicious point. The MacCumhaills man took in his excellent form from last week’s win over Kildare to clip four points on his Croke Park debut.
Meath finished with 14 men as Shane Gallagher was sent off for a second bookable offence, his foul on Brennan allowing Murphy to stroke over his seventh point of the evening. Murphy, again, was the guiding light for Donegal and his tally sent him to the Hogan Stand to collect an eighth piece of silverware as a Donegal captain.
Donegal were rocked in the early exchanges as Meath hit 1-6 in the first 12 minutes, including a 10th minute goal by Thomas O’Reilly.
Meath slit through Donegal all too easily. The under siege Barry Dardis off-loaded to Mickey Newman, who quickly transferred to O’Reilly. As he drew the advancing Shaun Patton, O’Reilly had time and space in buckets. The Wolfe Tones man clipped past Patton to put Meath six points in front.
The warning lights had been flashing for Donegal with Newman causing havoc.
The move from which Meath profited felt imminent in the early moments.
Meath zipped through Donegal’s arteries to go eight up by the 13th minute, when Newman’s fine effort was the cue for the board to go up.
Rookie full-back Brendan McCole, stationed on Newman duty from the start, was called ashore and Neil McGee sent on for a record-breaking 174th Donegal senior appearance.
Bryan Menton tucked Meath in front with the game’s opening point after only 25 seconds when, momentarily, a goal felt like a live possibility.
Donegal shook the sleep from their eyes. Gallen – playing at headquarters for the first time along with McCole and Daire Ó Baoill – found his range and Jamie Brennan slotted over twice in the 17th minute as Donegal warmed to the task.
Donegal benefited from a Hawkeye call against Newman, who was still proving to be a menace.
There was an even bigger let-off for Donegal three minutes before half-time when Newman rose to bat to the net from Cillian O’Sullivan’s centre. Replays showed that Newman had encroached on the square before O’Sullivan lofted in his pass.
Daire Ó Baoill might have brought Donegal to within a point, but the Gaoth Dobhair man clipped wide after soloing into a gaping hole in the Meath rearguard.
For Donegal fans, there was the pleasant and encouraging sight of Patrick McBrearty – nearing his return from a cruciate ligament injury – taking an active and lively part in the warm-up.
During the week, Bonner confirmed that McBrearty would play some All-County League games with Kilcar next month as he gets ready for Donegal’s Ulster SFC assault. Although McBrearty wasn’t a part of the 26-man panel, it was proof that McBrearty isn’t far away from being in the frame again.
There were moments in that first period where Donegal would have been pining for his presence and they left the turf at half-time for the comfort of the Hogan Stand five points behind.
Jason McGee and Gallen had the deficit down to a goal, but O’Sullivan and O’Reilly gave Meath breathing space and a 1-10 to 0-8 lead at the break.
Gallen and Newman traded blows at the outset of part two before Dardis’ first-time effort, after Brennan’s ball in broke invitingly, whizzed wide.
Three Murphy frees and a fine point by Jason McGee – one of Donegal’s bright points – made a real fist of things for Donegal, who briefly came to within two points.
They contrived to make the task harder than it ought to have been, though, and when Dardis slotted over a beauty from a ’45 close to the Cusack Stand, Meath were four ahead again.
Over the final 22 minutes, Meath added just one more point and the 1-4 Donegal hit in between times was the catalyst for a useful win that sends the Tir Chonaill men into the Championship on a positive note.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Stephen McMenamin, Brendan McCole, Paddy McGrath; Daire Ó Baoill, Leo McLoone, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee (0-2); Ryan McHugh, Niall O’Donnell (0-2), Caolan McGonagle; Oisin Gallen (0-4), Michael Murphy (0-7, 6f, 1m), Jamie Brennan (1-2). Subs: Neil McGee for McCole (14), Eamonn Doherty for McLoone (half-time), Michael Langan for McGonagle (44), Eoin McHugh for Ó Baoill (54), Frank McGlynn for R.McHugh (70).
Meath: Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Ronan Ryan; Bryan Menton (0-1), Shane McEntee (0-1); Cillian O’Sullivan, (0-2, 1f) Ben Brennan (0-1), Bryan McMahon (0-2); Barry Dardis (0-1 ’45), Mickey Newman (0-5, 2f, 1m), Thomas O’Reilly (1-1). Subs: Graham Reilly (0-1) for McMahon (35), Darragh Campion for Brennan (43), James Conlon for O’Reilly (65), Gavin McCoy for S.McEntee (67)
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary).Tags: