Michael Murphy gave one of his best ever displays for Donegal – one that yielded a remarkable nine points – as Donegal navigated a tricky hurdle in Roscommon.
Roscommon 0-13 Donegal 0-20
By Chris McNulty at Dr Hyde Park.
Murphy was unplayable and the almost-effortless way he went about dismantling Roscommon was something to behold.
Five of the Glenswilly man’s scores were from play on an evening when Roscommon had no answer to the Donegal captain, who alternated between full-forward and midfield sentries.
It was an-times testing contest for Donegal, but Murphy’s haul helped Donegal to a seven-point win.
Whether or not the margin will be enough remains to be seen and all eyes will turn to Omagh and the hotly-awaited meeting of Tyrone and Dublin.
Donegal will feel they could have had a bigger win.
Donegal led by seven when the inside of Colm Lavin’s post denied them a goal. Ryan McHugh flicked on a long punt towards Odhrán Mac Niallais. The ending seemed inevitable, but the frame shook as Mac Niallais came within inches of a goal.
Roscommon just wouldn’t go away and when Ciaráin Murtagh clipped over a free eight minutes from the end, the home support found its voice again.
Roscommon posted five points in the final 11 minutes, but Mac Naillais, Leo McLoone and Martin O’Reilly tacked on late scores for Donegal to make sure they didn’t have a sweat as the game clock turned red.
Donegal had named Neil McGee and Niall O’Donnell in the team submitted for the match programme, but Bonner kept faith with the same side that began last weekend’s five-point defeat to Dublin.
The game had only just entered the 19th minute when McGee was summonsed, to replace Eoghan Ban Gallagher, who left the field rather gingerly, nursing what appeared to be an arm injury. The sight of the Killybegs man in a sling will certainly be a worry with Tyrone due in Ballybofey in a fortnight’s time.
Donegal had only just drawn level at that stage, with Mac Niallais languidly clipping over an equalising score to steady the wobbly Donegal ship that was straying dangerously close to rocky ground in the opening quarter.
Roscommon, as if affronted by a stinging 18-point battering by Tyrone in Croke Park’s seven days earlier, began with purpose in front of a boisterous crowd.
Ciaráin Murtagh put them in front and there was a pang of regret when Diarmuid Murtagh sliced over in the fifth minute.
Murtagh got in behind the Donegal rearguard and, with just goalkeeper Shaun Patton to beat, his shot rose agonisingly over the crossbar. Murtagh’s head sank to his hands. He knew the price of such lucrative diamonds.
Roscommon dug for gold again and it took a deep-lying Ryan McHugh to mop up from a raking delivery by Fintan Cregg.
Every inch felt like a mile and when Patton cannoned away from Brian Stack, a significant moment felt even more monumental when Donegal quickly transferred down the other end for Murphy to thump over.
It was Donegal’s fifth-in-a-row and they had a three-point buffer to hold onto.
Murphy swatted Stack aside as if he were a flea on his arm and the Donegal captain made it a five-point game – an advantage that remained at the interval when they led 0-10 to 0-5.
The early blows were a chaotic mix and a brilliant save from Colm Lavin prevented Jamie Brennan from goaling at the other end. A ball broke invitingly and Brennan scampered onto it but Lavin brilliantly turned his effort out for a ’45, nailed by Murphy.
A Murtagh free in the 12th minute had Roscommon 0-4 to 0-2 in front, but by the time their next score arrived, 23 minutes later via Cathal Compton’s long-ranger, Donegal had charge of the evening.
Stack got on the end of a move involving Ciarán Lennon, a half-time substitute, and Enda Smith, to tuck over with a goal on again for Roscommon, just 20 seconds after the re-start, but Donegal survived and when Murphy landed a 49th minute free, for his seventh of the day, the margin was out to six.
Mac Niallais landed two majestic efforts for Donegal during those moments when Roscommon sought a means of burrowing a way back into the game.
Stack had another go with a stinging 56th minute effort, but Patton again repelled the arrow, leaping out to his left to claw away.
McHugh had Donegal ahead by double scores, 0-16 to 0-8, and the thought was that they’d kick on for a big win, but they didn’t manage to get a gallop.
Roscommon: Colm Lavin; David Murray, Niall McInerney, Seán McDermott; John McManus, Fintan Cregg, Conor Devaney; Tadgh O’Rourke, Cathal Compton (0-1); Ciaráin Murtagh (0-4, 2f), Niall Kilroy, Enda Smith (0-1); Diarmuid Murtagh (0-3, 1f), Brian Stack (0-2), Cathal Cregg. Subs: Ciarán Lennon for Compton (half-time), Donal Smith (0-2) for C.Cregg (45), Finbar Cregg for McDermott (47), Pádraig Kelly for Stack (59).
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Paddy McGrath, Stephen McMenamin, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Frank McGlynn, Paul Brennan, Eamonn Doherty; Leo McLoone, Michael Murphy (0-9, 3f, 1 ’45); Ryan McHugh (0-1), Michael Langan (0-1), Ciarán Thompson (0-2, 1f); Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-3), Hugh McFadden, Jamie Brennan (0-1). Subs: Neil McGee for Gallagher (19), Niall O’Donnell for J.Brennan (54), Anthony Thompson for McGlynn (56), Daire Ó Baoill for P.Brennan (62), Mark McHugh for C.Thompson (63), Martin O’Reilly (0-1) for Langan (68).
Referee: Ciarán Brannagan (Down).