Down crushed by Donegal juggernaut in one-sided Ulster semi-final
Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Donegal 2-22 Down 1-12
From Andy Watters at Clones
OUTCLASSED and outplayed, Down were crushed by the Tir Chonaill juggernaut in Clones yesterday.
Despite losing Neil McGee to an early red card, 14-man Donegal routed their Mourne county opponents and cantered home to a 13-point win in a damp squib of an Ulster semi-final.
Supporters had begun trickling out of St Tiernach’s Park well before the curtain mercifully came down on a game that was decided even before Down had finally scored their first point after 26 minutes.
By that stage Donegal had 1-8 on the board and men in red and black shirts had been reduced to virtual bystanders as the Tir Chonaill men gobbled up Marc Reid’s kick-outs and broke through the desperate last-ditch tackles that were a feature of Down’s performance and led to black cards for brothers Ronan and Shay Millar and David McKibbin too.
Led by the pace of Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh and the muscle of Michael Murphy, score followed score for Donegal and although Down, with Connaire Harrison outstanding, rallied in the closing stages of the first half and fought on to the finish with a late goal from Niall Donnelly, they lacked the cohesive gameplan, the muscle and the pace to keep up with their opponents.
Eamonn Burns’ men began brightly enough but Donal O’Hare shot wide early on and in a flash Donegal had points on the board through Paul Brennan and the physically imposing Murphy.
Shay Millar combined with his brother in another Down attack, but his effort drifted off target and Donegal began to take control of the game, ruthlessly punishing their opponents’ mistakes.
McBrearty nailed a free after Connor Maginn had been booked for a tackle on Ryan McHugh – who came in for some roughhouse treatment from the Down defence – and then Murphy fed Caolan Ward who left Down four points adrift.
It seemed like the Mournemen had been thrown a lifeline when McGee – who had already been booked for a tangle with Harrison – was shown a straight red for a knee in the back of the Glassdrumman forward who was lying face-down on the turf after he had collided with team-mate Darren O’Hagan.
A man down with an hour to play, Donegal might have lost confidence and retreated into a defensive shell, but the loss of McGee never troubled them and Down couldn’t get their hands on enough ball to exploit his loss in the Donegal defence.
Murphy landed another free and Donegal’s next four scores came rat-a-tat-tat, all from Down’s kickouts.
Hugh McFadden (twice), Frank McGlynn and Paul Brennan all won Reid restarts (sometimes unchallenged) and there were points for McBrearty and Murphy before Leo McLoone capitalized on a Ciaran Thompson shot that had hit the post by driving the ball into the Down net.
Ryan McHugh made it 1-8 to no score and there were ironic cheers from the Clones hill when Reid went short with his next kick-out.
Wouldn’t you know it, Down broke the length of the field and Caolan Mooney swept over their first score of the game.
From there to the break, Down outscored their opponents 6-4, producing some enterprising, attacking football.
Harrison, who looked dangerous throughout the game, lost marker Caolan Ward and clipped over two points either side of O’Hare’s a free.
Murphy and McHugh combined for a Donegal point before O’Hare pulled Paddy McGrath out wide and swung over Down’s fifth.
At that stage a Down goal would have set up an interesting second half. Peter Turley fisted an inviting ball to the back post, but there was no-one there to finish the move off and Jamie Brennan’s point left it 1-11 to 0-5 with half-time approaching.
Harrison and Maginn – after an inch-perfect pass from Ryan Johnston – reduced the arrears before Ciaran Thompson’s point left it 1-12 to 0-7 at the break and Donegal had a foot in the Ulster final.
Down needed to start punching above their weight in the second half to have any chance of making the game a contest, but again they were undone by the errors Donegal forced them into.
Skipper Niall McParland, who had collided with Murphy midway through the first half, wasn’t fit to start the second and Shay Millar completed a forgettable day for their club Glenn when he followed his brother Ronan off after receiving a black card.
Murphy turned new marker Ruairi Wells and blasted over Donegal’s first point of the half and they moved smoothly through the gears to put the game to bed with an unanswered 1-4.
McBrearty, gliding onto the ball with well timed runs, fired over back-to-back points before Jamie Brennan scored Donegal’s second goal.
Again it came direct from a Down kick-out. Niall Donnelly found himself outnumbered three-to-one in midfield and Murphy fed McHugh who floated the ball across the goal for Brennan to fist home at the far post.
Brennan gave Colm Flanagan the slip again for another point before O’Hare’s free opened Down’s second half account with 49 minutes gone and Mooney might have done better when he had a sniff of goal but was quickly crowded out by the Donegal defence.
Jamie Brennan and Harrison traded points and then Conor Poland, just on for Anthony Doherty, stretched to make an interception but gave ball away.
Again Donegal capitalized ruthlessly and Jamie Brennan almost got his second goal as Reid dived in bravely at his near post. Under pressure, Brennan’s shot hit the upright and McBrearty and O’Hare swapped frees before Donegal sub Stephen McMenamin had another goal chance.
Substitutes Odhran MacNiallais and Cian Mulligan combined and Ballyshannon clubman McMenamin rushed in at the back post but volleyed over the bar.
The game was decided by then of course though and Mark McHugh had become the 10th Donegal scorer by the time Donnelly jinked past two tackles and picked his spot past Shaun Patton to add a little respectability to the scoreboard.
It was a memorable moment for the Tullylish clubman but a very forgettable day for his county who now have to drag themselves off the floor for the second round of the Qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Donegal will return to Clones a fortnight’s time for the Ulster final having ruthlessly disposed of Cavan, Derry and now Down. They will be favourites for the decider, and on yesterday’s evidence only Fermanagh diehards would dare to bet against them.
Down: M Reid: C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty; D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly (1-1); K McKernan, C Maginn (0-2), S Millar; D O’Hare (0-4, 0-3 frees), C Harrison (0-4), R Millar
Subs: R Wells for McParland (ht), C Poland for Doherty (48), D McKibbin for Turley (56),
Yellow cards: Maginn (9), Harrison (10), Johnston (36)
Black card: R Millar replaced by R Johnston (21), S Millar replaced by S Dornan (37), McKibbin replaced by J Flynn (65)
Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; C Ward (0-1), P Brennan (0-2), R McHugh (0-2); H McFadden, L McLoone (1-0); C Thompson (0-1), M Langan, F McGlynn; P McBrearty (0-6, 0-3 frees), M Murphy (0-5, 0-3 frees), J Brennan (1-3)
Subs: D O’Baoill for Langan (39), O MacNiallais for McLoone (48), C Mulligan for C Thompson (48), S McMenamin (0-1) for Gallagher (54), M McHugh (0-1) for McGlynn (58), E Doherty for P Brennan (65)
Yellow cards: McGee (10), Langan (36)
Red card: McGee (12)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)