Dublin hold off determined fightback from Donegal

Dublin’s John Small tries to break free of Donegal’s Leo McLoone during Saturday’s Allianz Football League Division One encounter at Croke Park. Picture by Sportsfile

Allianz Football League Division One: Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15

DONEGAL manager Declan Bonner has admitted their next game against Kildare is now a must-win tie after yet another agonisingly narrow Allianz League defeat.

Donegal, sticking to the template of their one-point losses against Kerry and Galway, put themselves in a position to beat Dublin on Saturday evening.

A Patrick McBrearty-inspired comeback saw them reduce a seven-point deficit early in the second half to just one point with almost 66 minutes played.

But it was the three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions who finished strongest with four points on the bounce to win by a slightly flattering five-point margin.

Donegal, in turn, were left again with that ‘what if?’ feeling following a narrow loss and a string of missed chances.

They shot 13 wides in total and Michael Murphy, in his first competitive activity since groin surgery, was the unlikely fall guy in attack.

He came on and was immediately handed a free which he missed, fired a similar wide late on and was guilty of four missed opportunities in total.

It all added up to more disappointment and, after three straight defeats, they simply must beat Kildare on Sunday week to give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding the drop.

“I’m disappointed, absolutely, we definitely deserved something out of the Kerry match, and the Galway game, we had the chances but we didn’t take them,” said boss Bonner.

“It was the same as the second half against Dublin, we had our chances. We played very well in the second half, I think at one stage we kicked eight points to their two and we had a couple of opportunities but missed a few and dropped a few short.

“Against a team of Dublin’s quality, you’re going to be punished and we were. I’m just so disappointed that we didn’t get a result.

“We came so close. We battled really hard to come back. The first half we were slightly playing within ourselves. We just maybe stood back a bit from Dublin.

“Before half-time there might have been four points in it and we hit the crossbar, with Jamie Brennan, a great opportunity.

“He did everything right bar put it in the back of the net. Dublin went down the field and scored and, all of a sudden, you’re going in at half-time and instead of being one or two points down, it’s six.

“The second half has to be positive but we have no points on the board, that’s the bottom line.

“We have four games left now. They are all big games for us. Prior to the League campaign, I knew we were going to be very, very short in terms of experience.

“We have a lot of young lads that have shown they are capable of playing at this level but we knew it was going to be tough. We want to stay in Division One, but it is not going to be the be-all and end-all if we don’t.

“The Championship was always going to be the priority. We are looking towards Ulster and that starts in May.

“We are building it bit by bit, we are trying to change the way we are playing and changing gameplans takes time.

“We are getting there and that second half performance against Dublin will definitely give us encouragement.

“It’s very difficult. When you have been playing the one system for a long period of time, it can be difficult to try and change it. But, listen, we are getting there.

“The boys are working hard on the training ground and that is the only place we can get it rectified. It is only a bit of tweaking at this stage, we are not that far away.

“A victory would be a huge tonic now. Kildare is our next League game and that is a must-win for us.”

Niall Scully, Dublin’s find of 2017, cut through Donegal’s defence throughout the first-half and picked off four points. Brian Fenton and Colm Basquel were influential too as the League and Championship favourites moved 0-11 to 0-5 clear at half-time.

The margin was out to seven when Fenton pointed again just five seconds after the restart.

But from there Donegal conjured their best football of the evening and dominated until around five minutes from full-time.

McBrearty was outstanding in attack and hit Donegal’s last four points of the evening, three of which were beauties, to leave just one in it, 0-16 to 0-15.

They couldn’t push on for a much-needed win though and Dublin closed it out, securing what is now their ninth win in-a-row since losing last year’s League final.

Bonner (inset) welcomed Murphy’s return, despite the rusty finishing.

“It is hard to just slot back in when you have been out for a period of time,” said Bonner.

“He has been training well and we had planned for 15 minutes, the last 15 minutes. It is great to see him back on the pitch again, that’s going to be a great boost to everyone.”

Fellow All-Ireland winners Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee are nearing returns also.

“Frank is possibly back next weekend, Paddy is pencilled in for the last couple of League matches, he’s coming back from a knee injury,” said Bonner.

“Neil’s not too far away either, he’s back training also. That experience will be vital to come back in. At the same time, a lot of those young lads came of age against what is a very good Dublin side. They’re really a top class side.”

Dublin, in contrast to Donegal’s losing streak, have won their first three games, beating Kildare, Tyrone and now Donegal.

“You’ve got to be happy with the way the guys responded to that Donegal challenge,” said four-times All-Ireland-winning Dublin manager Jim Gavin.

“They impressed me watching the tapes – that opening game against Kerry, they were a man down, a dubious sending-off, I have to say, at the start of the game.

“They were a man down for most of that game, there were seven minutes to go, four points up, and they just lost that game. A very unlucky goal went against them. Against Galway, I thought they put in a big shift and again tonight, having looked at them, we knew the challenge it was going to be.”

Dublin: S Cluxton; Eric Lowndes (0-1), P McMahon, D Byrne; J Cooper, J McCarthy, J Small; B Fenton (0-2), MD Macauley; N Scully (0-4), C Kilkenny (0-2), B Howard (0-1); P Mannion (0-2, 1f), C Basquel (0-4, 0-1 free), P Andrews (0-1).

Subs: E O’Gara (0-1) for Andrews (46), C O’Sullivan for McMahon (46), D Rock for Macauley (65), C Reddin (0-1) for Scully (73), P Small (0-1) for Basquel (73).

Donegal: P Boyle; T McClenaghan, C Ward, E Ban Gallagher; L McLoone (0-1), E Doherty, R McHugh (0-2); H McFadden, N Mullins; S McBrearty (0-2), O MacNiallais, M McHugh (0-1); P McBrearty (0-7, 0-3 frees), J Brennan (0-2), C Thompson.

Subs: C McGonigle for Mullins (27), N O’Donnell for Thompson (42), M Murphy for MacNiallais (55), C McGinley for McHugh (65), M O’Reilly for S McBrearty (69), P Brennan for R McHugh (72).

Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan)

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