Donegal are coming back to earth following their winning of Sunday’s Ulster final – the county’s ninth capturing of the Anglo Celt Cup.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Ryan McHugh were the goalscorers in a 2-18 to 0-12 win over Fermanagh in searing Clones heat.
It was Donegal’s fourth title since 2011 and their first since 2014.
- Donegal ‘on a different level’ – in Ulster at least
On The Sunday Game after the Ulster final, Ciaran Whelan said Donegal were ‘on a different level’.
On the evidence of what we’ve seen in the Ulster Championship, the former Dublin midfielder’s assessment looks spot on.
The trouble does remain when attempting to figure out where Donegal are sitting as regards the race for the All-Ireland but, for now, Donegal can go forward in extreme confidence.
The loss of Patrick McBrearty will severely curb the chances, but the way Donegal powered to a ninth Ulster title was immense.
A hurting squad returned after three barren years with intent clear.
Sure, they avoided Tyrone and Monaghan, but that was hardly Donegal’s fault and, when it came to the crunch, Donegal were still standing for final Sunday.
A new-found attacking system has been rolled out by Declan Bonner and it is clear that his comment recently about the players ‘enjoying their football’ is ringing true.
Donegal had 13 different scorers on Sunday and posted another excellent tally of 2-18. Their average scoring in the Ulster Championship is a new record for the competition.
Michael Murphy is in the form of his life, Eoghan Ban Gallagher is already in All-Star territory, Ryan McHugh is a menace for anyone who stands in and Hugh McFadden is living up to a big expectation. All of that and Whelan is perhaps right when he says that Donegal are on a different level.
Whatever questions can be asked, they certainly shouldn’t field any more about what winning Ulster meant. The scene said it all.
2. Donegal’s deadly goal threats
Rarely has a Donegal team looked so dangerous and potent in front of goal.
The speed of thought and movement in attack was devastating at times on Sunday. Throughout the Ulster Championship, Donegal scored two goals a game – a return they’ll look to maintain as they head for a bigger stage now.
The goals were slick, emphatic and yet the ease with which Donegal purred in for those chances was a joy.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher finished by palming home a centre from Ryan McHugh, normally the man on the end of such moves.
But the second Donegal goal was all about McHugh. He made it so well and his finish high into Patrick Cadden’s net was unstoppable.
The goal threats come from all over, too. In the second half, Jamie Brennan was denied when a goal seemed imminent and corner-back Paddy McGrath had a goal disallowed for a square ball infringement.
There were other occasions, too, where Donegal looked so menacing – a trait they’ll certainly want to keep about their person from here on.
3. McBrearty absence a body blow
Declan Bonner’s reaction perhaps told it all. On Monday morning he admitted with a high that ‘it doesn’t look good’. By Tuesday, when the confirmation had arrived, the Donegal manager called it a ‘cruel blow’ as he came to terms with the news that Patrick McBrearty had ruptured a cruciate ligament.
McBrearty has been in scintillating form this year and was perhaps the country’s form forward in 2018.
Late in the first half, McBrearty shipped a heavy knock, but attempted to continue. Three minutes into the second half, he made way for Daire Ó Baoill.
Concern wasn’t initially obvious, but the sight of the Kilcar man on crutches on Monday didn’t paint a positive outlook.
A scan later in the day showed the worst fears had come true and Donegal must now plan for the latter stages without a deadly forward who’d been on the top of his game.
4. Rejuvenated aces in the Donegal pack
It looked over for Frank McGlynn in Sligo last July. Pulled ashore even before half-time in a heavy defeat to Galway in the qualifiers, it wasn’t the ending he deserved. There were worries, too, that Neil McGee would pull the pin on a stellar inter-county career.
Two more of Donegal’s greats seemed set to have played for the final time.
But then Declan Bonner arrived.
Bonner has helped inject a new lease of life into McGlynn. The Glenfin man admitted that Sunday’s win was the best of his four Ulster titles, given what the outlook had bene last summer.
McGlynn remains so vital to the Donegal cause.
McGee missed Sunday’s final through suspension, but the debate that raged about replacing the Gaoth Dobhair man shows just how valuable he remans
Odhrán Mac Niallais and Leo McLoone opted out of the county panel last year, but both are now central figures in Bonner’s cast, while Anthony Thompson’s introduction off the bench for a 93rd Donegal appearance in Sunday’s final saw his return to the county colours for the first time in 22 months.
5. Fermanagh offer little resistance
It would be unfair to refer to Fermanagh as having been obliging opponents, but they simply just weren’t at Donegal’s level.
Against Monaghan in their semi-final in Omagh, Fermanagh stayed in touch long enough to enable them cause an upset with Eoin Donnelly’s last-minute goal.
But once Eoghan Ban Gallagher found the net on Sunday, it looked like curtain down for Fermanagh.
“The hope was to be nip and tuck at half-time or maybe slightly ahead. That wasn’t the case and it was going to be difficult for us,” Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher admitted afterwards.
A couple of times in the second-half, after the introduction of Seamus Quigley to their attack, Fermanagh pumped high balls into the Donegal square. There was momentary alarm, but Donegal had already made sure they weren’t going to be caught.
Gallagher has Fermanagh well drilled and coached, but their limitations mean their surprise of Monaghan was probably a once-off.