Patrick McBrearty marked the occasion of his 100th inter-county appearance with a personal hail of 1-6 as Donegal came good in the final stages to shake off the challenge of a persistent Meath team.
Donegal 2-19 Meath 1-13
Andy McEntee’s side certainly would feel their nine-point defeat at sun-kissed MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey was a harsh reflection having come from five down to lead when substitute Darragh Campion pointed on 54 minutes.
There was a real frenzy coming off the terraces and the stand with things in the melting pot in a superb advertisement for the Super 8’s. Donegal’s experience in the end told as they maintained their composure as most around them were losing theirs and 19-year-old Oisin Gallen’s injury-time goal proving hugely popular on his home club ground.
It took Donegal’s inside forward trio of Jamie Brennan, Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy just seven minutes to scribble their respective names on the scoresheet.
Patrick McBrearty smashed home the only goal of the first half on 25 minutes to establish a 1-6 to 0-5 lead for the hosts, screeching away from a Ciaran Thompson pass following Shaun Patton’s swift kick-out.
Although it was occasionally claustrophobic in the opening 35 minutes, the standard of attacking play from both teams was commendable. Cillian O’Sullivan was proving to be a real handful for Meath.
At times there was a smoothness to Donegal’s offensive play, with a crisp Michael Murphy point on 34 minutes a perfect example of that after Paul Brennan’s snappy assist.
Meath, though, kept themselves in contention with Bryan McMahon scoring the last point of the half with an effort curled in at the Town End.
At half-time, Declan Bonner’s side had a 1-9 to 0-8 lead.
Donegal know better than most that their recent meetings with Meath were never won on paper. It was the third time the sides have met this season, with Donegal coming out on top of both clashes in the Allianz League Division 2. However, Meath would certainly have carried regrets after both those contents.
In the Division 2 final in March, the Royal were 1-6 to 0-1 in front on only 13 minutes before Donegal turned it around to win 1-17 to 1-15. That came on the back of Donegal’s 1-13 to 0-14 league win in Ballybofey; another turnaround as Andy McEntee’s team had been four points up with just 11 minutes remaining.
Two years ago, in the qualifiers, it took a late Patrick McBrearty point for Rory Gallagher’s Donegal to eke out a 1-15 to 1-14 victory at Pairc Tailteann and even when Jim McGuinness was the helm, back in the 2014 season, it took a wonderous point from a Murphy sideline ball in injury time to scrape a draw for Donegal with Meath in the Twin Towns.
In the second half in Ballybofey, it was Meath doing the coming back. Donegal edged out to 1-11 to 0-9 in front with successive McBrearty points and it appeared as though the script was being adhered to.
However, a disallowed Meath goal, when Gavin McCoy slapped in at the back post after Patton had made an excellent point-blank save from Bryan McMahon on 41 minutes, stirred the visitors.
Three minutes later, referee Conor Lane awarded Meath a penalty, which Donegal claimed was of the soft variety, when Daire O Baoill was adjudged to have fouled Donal Keogan’s progressive run.
Michael Newman scored the penalty and then back to back points from McMahon and Menton had Meath level at 1-11 apiece. Campion then put them in front.
In retrospect, Meath’s inability to push on from then was the reason they went home with nothing. They’d score just once more all game, while Donegal totted up 1-8 in the final quarter.
Ryan McHugh’s sense of adventure was apparent throughout and alongside Murphy, who was everywhere on his way to winning man of the match, helped turn the tables. The Donegal captain was plucking balls off his own line, protecting his square and knocking over from a 45 in those final 10 minutes.
McHugh and Shane McEntee, at the other end, took points when goals were possible. Donegal could rely on the likes of Frank McGlynn to come on and steady the ship and when they sensed a chance to bury Meath, they did it.
Gallen’s goal was coolly taken in the 72nd minute having been played in by McGlynn.
Both Donegal and Meath are headed for Croke Park this day week, with respective fixtures against Kerry and Mayo.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Stephen McMenamin, Neil McGee, Odhran McFadden-Ferry; Ryan McHugh (0-2), Paul Brennan, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee (0-1); Ciaran Thompson, Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Michael Langan (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (1-6, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-3, 45), Jamie Brennan (0-3). Subs: Daire O Baoill for P Brennan (43), Eoin McHugh (0-1) and Oisin Gallen (1-1) for Thompson and O’Donnell (49), Frank McGlynn for McGee (61), Eamonn Doherty for McFadden-Ferry (68), Caolan Ward for McMenamin (70+1)
Meath: Andrew Colgan, Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Menton (0-2), Shane McEntee (0-1); Ethan Devine, Bryan McMahon (0-3), James McEntee (0-1); Cillian O’Sullivan (0-2), Michael Newman (1-2, 1f, 1-0 pen), James Conlon (0-1). Subs: Shane Walsh for Conlon (43), Darragh Campion (0-1) for Devine (46), Sean Curran for Gallagher (black card, 57), Graham Reilly for B McMahon (63), Adam Flanagan for S McEntee (66), Thomas O’Reilly for O’Sullivan (70)
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).Tags: