BATTLING DONEGAL WERE beaten for a third time in the Allianz League tonight – going down to Dublin but having put up a real fight at Croke Park.
With just four minutes to go, they trailed by just a point with Michael Murphy seeing his first action of 2018. Alas, just like last week and indeed the week before, there was to be no happy ending as Paul Mannion, Eoghan O’Gara, Ciaran Reddin and Paddy Small made it three from three for the All-Ireland champions.
With Declan Bonner employing a more expansive approach, albeit early in the year, taking on Dublin at their own game in their own backyard was going to be something of a daunting task. The Donegal manager, though, has insisted that his young panel can only iron out the creases of inexperience against the best – and none are better than Dublin.
Over the course of the 70 minutes, Donegal didn’t do badly.
The sight of Murphy taking part in the warm-up would’ve pleased few but the Donegal captain made his way to the Lower Hogan to watch his team kitted in Kerry-type jerseys – but would return for the last 15 minutes.
Donegal might’ve fashioned a goal in their opening attack as Patrick McBrearty bread-basketed an Odhran MacNiallais pass before having just a momentary glance at goal but instead the ball was recycled to Ryan McHugh to score on 40 seconds.
It was open fare and that mightn’t have been something that bothered Jim Gavin’s charges. Dublin seem to have the abilities to find the open spaces of Croke Park no matter how much their opponents try to inflict various forms of claustrophobia, and were revelling with their running game.
Added to that, Donegal thus far under Bonner have found bother with the aerial threat and although there were a couple of moments that might’ve caused some irk earlier in the first half, Donegal’s young team did manfully.
On 20 minutes, it looked as though there might be a landslide forming, with Dublin 0-6 to 0-2 in front and the latter three of those half-dozen scores – through Colm Basquel, Ciaran Kilkenny and Brian Fenton – were getting more and more flamboyant.
Donegal, though, were hanging in and with Leo McLoone coming forward to score from his position of sweeper and Ryan McHugh popping his second of the night, so the 0-7 t0 0-4 deficit wasn’t the worst they might’ve had.
But two points from Niall Scully – the second of which had been gobbled up from a Peter Boyle – kick-out gave Dublin a 0-9 to 0-4 lead on 27 minutes – the exact same scoreline at the exact same they were in front by the anoraks will tell you they were leading the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final by only for Donegal to win 3-14 to 0-17.
Back in 2018, Patrick McBrearty kicked 19 points in Donegal’s opening two league fixtures but having been well marshalled initially by David Byrne, took until a minutes before half-time to open his account on the Jones’ Road to take Donegal back to 0-10 to 0-5 down.
Nathan Mullins was playing against his home county and given the burly finger by the manager, eight minutes before the break. Patrick McBrearty took a left-footed free where a right-footer might’ve suited best and missed at Hill16, while Basquel had earlier passed up on what looked like a routine score from the placed ball.
Right in half-time, Kilcar forward McBrearty played a neat ball to Jamie Brennan, who made an angle for himself on his right foot only to clip the post when going for goal with Stephen Cluxton beaten. It would be a harsh lesson for Donegal – another one – as Scully’s fourth point of at the other end in injury time would put Dublin in 0-11 to 0-5 in front.
Declan Bonner’s team had gone to the capital with no points from their first two outings but certainly possessed a hard luck tale or two with the narrowest of losses in their fixtures – 2-18 to 3-14 in Killarney against Kerry and then a 1-12 to 0-14 reversal at Galway’s hands in Letterkenny.
At the start of the second half, it wasn’t an irrational premise to wonder how much Dublin might’ve wanted to chug though the gears and if Donegal could stay with them. Six seconds into part two Fenton pointed to justify those who might’ve had the ominous thoughts.
But decent scores from Mark McHugh and Patrick McBrearty’s brace meant that on 40 minutes, Donegal were 0-13 to 0-9 down.
Brian Howard and Jamie Brennan – who impressively took on and beat Philly McMahon who was soon to be substituted – traded points, it showed Donegal were clinging in. A second Stephen McBrearty score, on 48 minutes, was supplemented by two from his older brother in the next five minutes and suddenly, Donegal were only 0-14 to 0-13 behind.
Basquel’s free settled Dublin’s nerves a touch and another three minutes later – either side of a Murphy free that was missed at the David Stand side with his first touch – put Dublin 0-16 to 0-13 in front.
Another two Patrick McBrearty clinkers – both on the left from the right – took Donegal back to within a point, 0-16 to 0-15.
Ten minutes from time and with Donegal supporters finding their voice, a roar went up as it looked to some at though Murphy has levelled only for his show to drop short into Cluxon’s arms. Dublin could breathe again. Ryan McHugh’s effort into the breeze ended up in the exact same place.
Dean Rock, Dublin’s regular free-taker and the man who won the All-Ireland final, suffered a similar fate as Murphy – who would hit three wides – but Mannion, O’Gara, Reddin and Small’s scores were enough for Dublin to take the points.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; David Byrne, Philly McMahon, Eric Lowndes (0-1); Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Paddy Small (0-1); Brian Fenton (0-2), Michael Darragh Macauley; Brian Howard (0-1), Ciaran Kilkenny (0-2), Niall Scully (0-5); Colm Basquel (0-4, 1f), Paul Mannion (0-2, 1f), Paddy Andrews (0-1). Subs: Eoghan O’Gara (0-1) and Cian O’Sullivan for Andrews and McMahon (47), Dean Rock for Macauley (65), Ciaran Reddin (0-1) and Paddy Small for Scully and Basquel (70)
Donegal: Peter Boyle; Tony McClenaghan, Caolan Ward, Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher; Mark McHugh (0-1), Eamonn Doherty, Ryan McHugh (0-2); Hugh McFadden, Nathan Mullins; Odhran MacNiallais, Stephen McBrearty (0-2), Ciaran Thompson; Jamie Brennan (0-2), Patrick McBrearty (0-7, 3f), Leo McLoone (0-1). Subs: Caolan McGonagle for Mullins (27), Niall O’Donnell for Thompson (42), Michael Murphy for MacNiallais (55), Ciaran McGinley for M McHugh (65), Martin O’Reilly for S McBrearty (69), Michael Carroll for R McHugh (70)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).Tags: