GAA Football

Impressive Donegal blitz disappointing Cavan

From Cahair O'Kane at Celtic Park

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EirGrid Ulster U20 football championship preliminary round: Donegal 2-21 Cavan 0-10

A POWERFUL, slick Donegal side laid down a serious marker to their rivals for the Ulster U20 title with a polished display that comfortably disposed of an outmuscled Cavan.

With the talents of skipper Niall O’Donnell obvious throughout as he hit 1-12, Jason McGee lording it around the middle like Darby O’Gill in the land of the little people, and Peadar Mogan and Nathan Boyle going, going, going all day from deep, it was evident from the very early minutes which side would be victorious.

Cavan’s defensive shape was pulled all over the shop and Donegal put on a display where their excellent finishing was a product of their glorious kick-passing, which was a product of their superb movement.

There were times when the winners had 14 men inside their own 45 but the way in which they transitioned from back to front will make them a serious force at this level, provincially and perhaps beyond.

Donegal’s squeeze on the Cavan kickouts was masterful and hugely effective. The Breffnimen tried everything to avoid kicking the ball down the throat of the imposing McGee but even when they managed that, the yellow shirts picked up most of what Gary O’Rourke’s left boot sent into the middle.

That laid the platform for a nine-point interval lead, but the possession was only one part of it. Cavan’s defensive line was pierced by the ability of the Tír Chonaill men to kick scores from distance and wide angles.

It was 0-5 to 0-2 after 10 minutes, with Mogan and Shane McGrath kicking the pick of the scores in that spell. Their rotating forward line was creating space for overlaps, and the scores just kept coming.

Their first goal was a thing of beauty, crafted by O’Donnell. His vision to change his mind just as he went to shoot, instead dropping the ball perfectly over the top of the Cavan cover into the chest of Nathan Boyle, was class.

Boyle backed it up by racing towards the red spot and driving an unstoppable low effort past O’Boyle. That put real daylight between them and Cavan, try as they might, were just never able to bolt the door again.

“We knew it would be tough but we didn’t think it’d be that tough,” said Cavan boss Kevin Downes.

“I don’t think they missed, they probably only had two or three wides in the whole game. We came up with a plan but it wasn’t good enough.

“Physically, Donegal were well ahead of us on strength and conditioning, they looked a lot bigger than us. That’s something we’ll have to look at. We need to match these teams physically as well as being able to play football against them.”

By half-time his counterpart Gary McDaid, who guided Glenswilly to Donegal championship success and an Ulster club final in 2013, was happy to keep a lid on things and keep the side composed.

“It’s hard to know at half-time, they’re young, they’re under-20. You don’t want them going in slapping each other on the back or high-fiving, but they weren’t, they’re grounded,” he said.

“It’s something we worked on from very early, that they’re humble and they realise every day they play for Donegal is an opportunity that they might never get again.”

Cavan had better patches in the second half but it was still much of the same on the whole, with Donegal hitting six of the first seven scores to stretch away out of sight.

Oisin Gallen kicked a couple of nice efforts from full-forward, with only really the lively Thomas Edward Donohoe able to offer much resistance for the beaten side.

Even after sub Gavin Daly was sent off, they rallied late on with four points in the final ten minutes, but even then they couldn’t win that spell, with Donegal hitting 1-3 to cap the day off

Their second goal was supplied unselfishly by sub Ryan Cunningham, who could easily have gone himself but squared for O’Donnell to put a deserved seal on his own performance with a palmed finish.

They have just seven days to get ready for Derry, who would have been running a good eye over them on their own patch yesterday. That should be a game worth seeing.

MATCH STATS

Donegal: E O’Boyle; P McEniff, A Deeney, P Mogan (0-2); N Boyle (1-0), M Curran, S Ó Fearraigh; J McGee, O McFadden-Ó Fearraigh; P Dolan (0-1f), N O’Donnell (1-12, 0-11f), S McDevitt (0-1); S McGrath (0-2), O Gallen (0-2), C O’Donnell (0-1)

Subs: C McFadden for McDevitt (H-T), R Cunningham for Deeney (H-T), T Govorov for Gallen (40), E McCormack for McGee (50), L Molloy for N O’Donnell (58)

Yellow cards: O Gallen (10), S McDevitt (20), E McCormack (54), L Molloy (59), S McGrath (59)

Red cards:

Cavan: G O’Rourke; P O’Reilly, L Fortune, F McAvinue; C O’Reilly (0-1), C Brady, P Rogers; J Smith (0-1), C Rehill; L Molloy (0-1), TE Donohoe (0-2f), S Smith (0-1f); O Pierson (0-1), C Smith (0-1), L Reilly

Subs: C Madden (0-1f) for L Reilly (H-T), G Daly for C O’Reilly (47), R O’Neill for S Smith (44), E Cooney for P O’Reilly (55)

Yellow cards: S Smith (18), C Brady (19), O Pierson (51), P O’Reilly (60), L Fortune (60)

Red cards: G Daly (51)

Referee: P McKeever (Antrim)

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