Donegal’s greater experience and physique was crucial in this victory over youthful 14- man neighbours Fermanagh in a richly entertaining affair in Maguiresbridge.
Fermanagh 2-13 Donegal 1-21
By Gerry McLaughlin
But it was not until the final minutes that the favourites edged home with ace marksman Davin Flynn landing 0-10 against an Erne side who lost full-forward Danny Teague to a second yellow card in the 47th minute.
That was a big hill for Joe Baldwin’s men to climb as Donegal moved into a four- points lead on a score of 1-12 to 0-11 thanks to a scrambled goal from team captain Ronan McDermott.
But despite a man down, and playing into the breeze, the home side made a real fight of it and goals from recent Tipperary recruit Brian Teehan and a converted penalty from Barney McAuley tied this thriller on a score of 2-13 to 1-16 ten minutes.
However, Fermanagh failed to score thereafter as Tir Chonaill hit five unanswered points to carve out a deserved victory.
Fermanagh played with the breeze in the opening half and took the game to their opponents and eased into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead thanks to McAuley and Luca McCusker.
It took Donegal a while to settle-but points from Flynn and Daire O’Maoileidigh got them off the mark and they led by 0-5 to 0-3 by the end of the first quarter.
Fermanagh had a chance of a goal but McAuley’s blasted effort from a 21- yards free was superbly saved by Donegal keeper Luke White.
Scores were coming with bewildering rapidity as both sides went for it and the home side finished the half more strongly and were worth their half time of 0-9 to 0-8.
Donegal turned over with the breeze and two quick frees from Flynn put them back in front.
Then, the game turned in favour of Mickey McCann’s man when a Danny Cullen lob was finished to the net by McDermott and Cullen tossed over a point 10 seconds later.
Donegal were ahead by 1-12 to 0-11 and looked to be in command.
But Fermanagh struck with venom when Teehan found himself clear on the Donegal goal form a clever Sean Corrigan pass and he found the net.
It was pretty frenetic stuff ,and the home crowd raised a big cheer when McAuley colly converted a penalty after Caolan Duffy was pulled down in the square from a Brian Teehan pass in the 48th minute.
The sides were level at 2-13 ot 1-16 but with Danny Cullen imperious for Donegal, the balance swung their way as they brought on star forward Ritchie for the first time in almost two months.
Cullen, Flynn and O’Maoileidigh closed out the scoring to edge it for the favourites.
But Fermanagh, who were minus top players like John Duffy, Sean Paul McGarry and Francie McBrien and football tied Ciaran Corrigan will be happy with a battling display against a team operating two divisions above them at the start of the year.
Fermanagh: Mark Curry; Ciaran Breslin, Rory Porteous, Ciaran Duffy; Aidan Flanagan, Ryan Bogue, Barney McCauley (1-6fpen); Caolan Duffy (0-1) Conor McShea; Luca McCusker (0-2), Sean Corrigan (0-2) Tom Keenan (0-1); Ultan O’Reilly, Daniel Teague (0-1) Ronan McGurn. Subs;Brian Teehan (1-0) for Tom Keenan (48), Odhran Johnston for Sean Corrigan (52) Shea Curran for Luca McCusker (54), Ultan O’Reilly for Ciaran Breslin (58), Ronan McGurn for Dylan Bannon (59).
Donegal: Luke White; Gavin Browne, Jack O’Loughlin (0-2) Padraig Doherty; Conor O’Grady, Michael Donaghue, Sean McVeigh; Danny Cullen (0-2) Brian McIntyre; Conor Gartland (0-1) Declan Coulter (0-1) Ronan McDermott (1-2); Daire O’Maoileidigh (0-3) Gerry Gilmore, Davin Flynn (0-10,9f) Subs; Ritchie Ryan for Declan Coulter (49), Ruairi Campbell for Gerard Gilmore (54), Stephen McBride for Padraig Doherty (55).
Referee: J Judge (Mayo)