Donegal have the edge

June 24, 2013


James McCartan named the same Down starting fifteen which defeated Derry in the quarter-finals for the Ulster SFC semi-final versus Donegal. Mark McHugh returned to the Donegal starting fifteen in place of the injured Neil Gallagher in an otherwise unchanged Donegal selection from that which beat Tyrone in the last round.

Down began with Ambrose Rogers picking up Leo McLoone and Peter Turley the spare man at the back; Donegal defended in droves and attacked in waves. Though they still lost the ball in the tackle and weren’t assured enough to take their chances, compared to the Ulster Final twelve months ago Down gave a much better account of themselves. And the three substitutes introduced all made telling contributions so there is definitely a lot of positives for Down to take from the match.

It was a tough, physical affair with more than a little left in the tackle and while Down gave almost as good as they got, they had not that little bit extra to turn negating Donegal into winning the match. Donegal are the benchmark, they are All-Ireland Champions, and it will be interesting to see how much closer, if at all any of the big guns – Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and Cork – get to the Tir Conaill men during the summer. Once the ‘black card’ comes in Donegal’s fortunes may wane. For Down they know they are in a better place than last July, they are competitive now and they know they have to step it up again to win at this level.

After a bruising opening five minutes Michael Murphy pointed a free, made easier as it was moved closer for back chat and soon added one from play; Colm McFadden repeated the dose and Donegal led four nil by the fifteenth minute.

Down were putting the hits in but too often were turned over on the way out of defence and half the Donegal scores emanated from ball spilled from Down possession. Donal O’Hare pointed frees in the fifteenth and nineteenth minutes to halve the deficit but Down gave away another needless score when Murphy out numbered three to one was still bundled over to present him with a simple tap over free. Four minutes later Patrick McBrearty seized on another Down spill to shoot Donegal six two in front but they were then held scoreless for some fourteen minutes until the break.

Down’s problem was that other than Donal O’Hare free kicks they looked toothless up front; he made it six-three from a difficult angle before Mark Poland hit their first from play after thirty two minutes taking the ball at speed to solo through the Donegal defence and lob over to leave it 0-6 to 0-4 in Donegal’s favour at the break.

Conor Laverty and Ambrose Rogers had probably touched more ball than any other Down men, the problem was it was mostly in their own half; Down needed to perfect an out ball to complement their heroic defending. An amazing statistic from the first half was that there was only one wide ball, a Down effort.

Down blazed a second wide on the restart but Donegal who have perfected the art of soaking up pressure and counter attacking to come away more often than not with a score, extended their lead two minutes in. Again Down had only themselves to blame, losing concentration to contest a side line ball which Donegal then took quickly to inrushing centre fielder Rory Kavanagh who lofted over.

A marvellous catch from a subdued Benny Coulter led to another pointed Donal O’Hare free but almost immediately Donegal extended their lead to a goal once more, another free from Michael Murphy moved in for Down dissent; really they were not helping themselves. Donal O’Hare’s fifth free after another foul on Conor Laverty made it a two point game and Down had chances but showed a strange reluctance to take on the responsibility and shoot, preferring instead to recycle the ball and eventually lose it.

Colm McFadden, with a long range shot, showed how to do it while Down responded with their best piece of incisive pacy play of the day before Donal O’Hare pointed from play.

Donegal shot their first wide in the fifty fifth minute but McFadden soon added another huge point and the gap was three again.

Two Down subs combined, Ryan Mallon placing Jerome Johnstone for a point and Down had a chance to bring the deficit to the minimum but a free came back off the upright and was cleared to safety.

McFadden, with a free from outside the fifty, punished Down but Donegal showed a flash of vulnerability when a loose pass in their own square presented Down the fleeting goal chance it was by now obvious they needed but again the ball was smuggled to safety.

Danny Savage pointed a free five minutes from time to keep Down hopes alive but Donegal used all their experience to run down the clock and Murphy landed his fifth point of the match from a last minute free to again leave a goal separating the teams.

Down had one last attack to force a replay but found Donegal will let you go so far but no further and the ball spilled again under a ferociously strong tackle and that was that.

Down now face into the Qualifiers, hoping for a home draw, knowing they are on the right road but realising they need a bigger spread of scorers and more scores from play to win against the best.

Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, B McArdle, R Boyle, D Rooney, P Turley, K Quinn, K King, K McKernan, A Rogers, M Poland 0-1, N Madine, D O’Hare 0-6, B Coulter, C Laverty.

Subs: J Johnstone 0-1, D Savage 0-1, R Mallon.

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh 0-1, R Bradley; David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty 0-1, M Murphy 0-5, C McFadden 0-5.

Subs: Marty O’Reilly, Martyin McElhinney, Ryan McHugh, Ross Wherity, Dermot Molloy.