Goals galore for Galway as Donegal are sent tumbling out of Championship
All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round 4A: Donegal 0-14 Galway 4-17
THE mist that descended from Benbulbin added a fittingly eerie feel to the pre-half-time horror show that brought an abrupt end to Donegal’s Championship summer.
Trudging from the field, 11 points down and having lost their goalkeeper to a calamitous black card, it wasn’t only from the Daltry mountains’ most iconic peak that storm clouds brewed.
For the final 20 minutes of the first half, the men in green and gold looked like they were foraging through heavy fog. By the time the haze lifted, they were gone.
Galway racked up 3-5 in this period to just two points from Donegal. Within seven minutes of the restart, the Tir Chonaill were down to 13 men after losing captain Michael Murphy and substitute Martin McElhinney to black cards, Rory Gallagher having played his full hand from the bench already.
Leading by 12, and knowing Kerry lie in wait this Sunday, Galway could afford to play out the rest of the game at training ground pace.
Had this been a boxing match, the referee would’ve stopped it with 20-odd minutes left.
Worryingly for Donegal, such scenes of shock and awe are nothing new.
Five weeks earlier, against Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final, they were holding their own until the Red Hands put the boot down and fired over seven points to just one in response as half-time neared. Game over.
Yet nobody was more surprised by the final outcome on Saturday night than the Galway support inside Markievicz Park.
Heavily outnumbered by their Donegal counterparts, the hangover from their Connacht final collapse two weeks previous was still being felt if the scant numbers who made the trip to Sligo were anything to go by.
“Come here to me,” said one local radio broadcaster, beckoning a nearby steward, “could ye gather up the names of all the Galway supporters and I’ll give them a shout out?”
The pair laughed heartily, but expectations were as low heading into Saturday’s Qualifier clash as they had been high when Roscommon arrived in Salthill.
With the Tribe hurlers carrying the hearts and minds of so much of the Galway public into their All-Ireland semi-final on August 6, the footballers faced another year in the shadows had they hit the skids on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Rory Lavelle paid the price for his part in the botched kick-out strategy that saw them routed by the Rossies, replaced by Bernard Power before throw-in.
But it was out the field where Kevin Walsh’s changes bore the most fruit. The return of Sean Armstrong, injured for the Connacht final, brought a real touch of class and guile to the Galway forward line.
Cleaned out at midfield by Roscommon, there were concerns about how they would manage against Donegal without the towering Fiontain O Curraoin. Tom Flynn went to centrefield and delivered a man-of-the-match performance.
Johnny Heaney, replaced at half-time two weeks ago, popped up with two goals and two points while the movement of Championship debutant Ian Burke bamboozled Kieran Gillespie all evening.
The early exchanges were tight as Donegal dropped 14 men behind the ball, and Paddy McBrearty was causing problems for Cathal Sweeney, forcing Walsh to move Declan Kyne onto the Kilcar man.
When McBrearty swept Donegal into a 0-5 to 0-4 lead after 16 minutes, a superb curling finish on the run, the Tir Chonaill’s dander looked to be up.
They suffered a first sucker punch two minutes later when Heaney palmed to the net following clever build-up play from Armstrong and Burke, but the second goal 10 minutes before the break was the real killer.
It started when Shane Walsh’s effort came back off the upright. Murphy was there to collect it until, normally the safest pair of hands, the Glenswilly man inexplicably stumbled and the ball ran loose for Flynn.
Running in on goal at full tilt, goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley dived and stuck out his right hand, catching Flynn to earn himself a black card and a crucial spot kick for the Tribesmen. Replacement Peter Boyle’s first touch was to pick the ball out of the net after Liam Silke’s coolly converted penalty.
Suddenly the Galway support believed.
A third goal conceded before half-time wasn’t much better from a Donegal perspective, again passing up opportunities to clear the danger as Gary O’Donnell came rampaging through from deep.
A beautiful flick from Armstrong again left Heaney with the easiest of finishes from close-range and he made no mistake.
As Gallagher emptied the bench after the break, Galway kept the scoreboard ticking over with points from Paul Conroy, Armstrong and O’Donnell before Murphy made his exit after a clumsy, if hardly black card-worthy, push on Shane Walsh.
As he left the field, so too did any faint hopes of a Donegal revival. With the Kingdom lying in wait, Galway could afford to play out the game at their own pace, with Danny Cummins’ added time goal his side’s fourth - barely registering with those who remained inside Markievicz Park.
To add to the buoyant mood, Walsh introduced Michael Meehan with three minutes left, the injury-plagued Caltra man making his first appearance in a maroon jersey for four years. Galway were going to enjoy this, and why not?
You had to feel sorry for McBrearty in the end. He rattled one shot off the bar midway through the second half and saw a 58th minute penalty saved by Power, but also produced some of the most breathtaking scores of the game.
In a Championship summer to forget for Donegal, McBrearty has still managed to give regular reminders of his undoubted class. How he could do with a Michael Murphy to feed off up top.
Of the remaining old guard, only time will tell if we see the likes of Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn back in county colours.
Karl Lacey equaled Christy Toye’s record of 65 Championship appearances for Donegal on Saturday night. It could have been his last.
One thing that’s beyond doubt is that talk of 2012 will do no-one any good as the county enters a new era. There is huge potential among the current Donegal crop, but a long road lies ahead.
The journey is already under way – the destination? For now, it’s hidden somewhere behind the mist at the top of Benbulbin.
Galway: B Power; E Kerin, D Kyne, C Sweeney; G O’Donnell (0-2), G Bradshaw, L Silke (1-0, pen); P Conroy (0-1), T Flynn; J Heaney (2-2), M Daly (0-1), I Burke (0-1); S Armstrong (0-6, 0-4 frees), D Comer (0-1), S Walsh (0-1). Subs: E Brannigan (0-2) for Walsh (60), D Cummins (1-0) for Daly (63), M Meehan for D Comer (68), D Walsh for G Bradshaw (72), C McDaid for G O’Donnell (72)
Black card: Sweeney replaced by D Wynne (58)
Yellow card: D Comer (35), D Kyne (51, 54), I Burke (70)
Red card: D Kyne (54)
Donegal: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Ward; F McGlynn, K Gillespie, E Ban Gallagher; M Murphy (0-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45), J McGee; E McHugh, R McHugh, M McHugh; J Brennan, P McBrearty (0-6, 0-2 frees), H McFadden. Subs: M Langan (0-1) for Brennan (35), M McElhinney (0-1) for McGlynn (36), K Lacey for Gillespie (HT), C Thompson for McFadden (41), M O’Reilly (0-2) for E McHugh (41).
Black card: MA McGinley replaced by P Boyle (26), M Murphy (42, not replaced), M McElhinney (48, not replaced)
Yellow card: N McGee (37), J McGee (65)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)