Caolan McGonagle came up with the magic moment as Donegal overcame Meath on a bitter, freezing Ballybofey night.
Donegal 1-13 Meath 0-14
By Chris McNulty at Sean MacCumhaill Park
Meath looked to on their way to a win when McGonagle rose to bat home a 59th minute goal that swung the pendulum.
Donegal’s Jamie Brennan under pressure from Meath’s Seamus Lavin and Niall Kane during the Division 2 National League game in Ballybofey. Photo Evan Logan
The Buncrana man got in ahead of Meath ‘keeper Andrew Colgan to finish from an Eoghan Ban Gallagher ball into the danger zone.
As Gallagher’s delivery hung, the waves of breath visible on the edge of the Meath square, McGonagle got the vital touch.
Donegal were four behind when the ball left Gallagher’s boot.
McGonagle’s fist brought the arrears down to one.
Ciaran Thompson arched over a splendid free and it was all square.
Meath failed to score for 20 minute at the end and Eoin McHugh, a substitute, put Donegal in front for the first time since the fifth minute.
Jamie Brennan, what seemed an eternity after he opened the scoring, completed it with the insurance point.
Beforehand, Meath paid a touching tribute to the four victims of last Sunday’s horrific road traffic accident in west Donegal as county secretary Mairead Donnelly presented Donegal’s Central Council delegate Seamus Ó Domhnaill with four candles.
In the early stages of the second half, Niall O’Donnell restored parity for Donegal, who were 0-8 to 0-7 in arrears, but – just as they had done in the opening period, Meath hit four points in succession.
Bryan McEntee, Mickey Newman (2) and Shane McEntee scored to move Meath four ahead and Andy McEntee’s team were purring nicely at that point.
When Campion landed a wonderful score in the 54th minute, there was a growing sense that it was to be Meath’s evening. Campion arrowed over a beauty to restore a four-point cushion.
McGonagle’s goal, however, saw Donegal creep back – and they came up with the goods in the closing minutes.
After early scores by Brennan and Thompson – who arched over off an upright from the shadows of the stand – Meath hit a mini purple patch. The slick Royals’ attack reeled off four-on-the-trot via Newman, Shane McEntee, Campion and Niall Kane.
Meath led by the minimum at half-time as Ethan Devine clipped over the last point of the opening half.
After that initial burst from Meath, it was tit-for-tat for the remainder of part one, with Thompson landing a couple of fine scores, which kept the hosts in touch.
Donegal showed three changes to the side that won 0-16 to 0-13 in Ennis last Sunday, with Mark Anthony McGinley, Martin O’Reilly and Martin McElhinney coming in from the off.
O’Reilly pointed from a ‘mark’ midway through the first half.
As an entertaining first half opened up, both sides passing up chances.
Donegal might well have been in for a goal on the half-hour mark.
When Michael Langan surged through along the end-line, he watched and waited mid-stride for support inside but the St Michael’s man had to go it alone and the chance was spurned.
The game was only given the go-ahead following an inspection of the MacCumhaill Park surface just before 6 o’clock. Referee Jerome Henry took a length look at the pitch.
The crunching of feet upon the surface was enough in itself to rise concerns and there were even suggestions at a stage that the match could be put back until tomorrow afternoon.
Thompson briefly levelled for Donegal late in the half, but Devine gave Meath the edge at the changeover.
It didn’t look good for Donegal, but they arrived back into the night through McGonagle and finished off for a second Division 2 win.
Scorers for Donegal: C Thompson (2f) 0-5, N O’Donnell (2f) 0-3, C McGonagle 1-0, J Brennan 0-2, M Langan, M O’Reilly (1m), E McHugh 0-1 each
Scorers for Meath: D Campion, M Newman (2f) 0-3 each, J McEntee, S McEntee, N Kane 0-2 each, E Devine, B Menton 0-1 each
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Conor Morrison, Brendan McCole, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Caolan Ward, Eamonn Doherty, Ryan McHugh; Hugh McFadden, Michael Langan; Niall O’Donnell, Ciaran Thompson, Caolan McGonagle; Martin O’Reilly, Martin McElhinney, Jamie Brennan. Subs: Leo McLoone for Langan (half-time), Jason McGee for McElhinney (45), Stephen McMenamin for O’Reilly (45), Eoin McHugh for Doherty (67), Paul Brennan for O’Donnell (75).
Meath: Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Ronan Ryan; James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Niall Kane; Bryan Menton, Shane McEntee; Ethan Devine, Ben Brennan, Bryan McMahon; Darragh Campion, Mickey Newman, Thomas O’Reilly. Subs: Cillian O’Sullivan for Brennan (half-time), Graham Reilly for Devine (47), James Conlon for Bryan McMahon (55), Jason Scully for Campion (67), Michael Burke for Newman (72).
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo).