GAA Football

Donegal beat Kildare to seal promotion to Division One

Victory over Kildare on Sunday saw Donegal return to Division One. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Donegal 1-20 Kildare 0-10

From Andy Watters at Fr Tierney Park, Ballyshannon

A SKIRL of the pipes and a roar of ‘Up Donegal’ greeted confirmation of the Tir Chonaill men’s return to the top flight yesterday.

Meath’s victory over Fermanagh sealed the deal for Donegal and, on this evidence, Division One is where they belong because they totally dominated a Kildare side that trailed 0-13 to a point at half-time and lost all hope of an unlikely comeback when Kevin Flynn was red-carded early in the second half.

The Lilywhites had apparently won the toss but inexplicably chose to play into the gale that swept in off the nearby Atlantic. That was typical of their poor decision-making as they were outplayed all over the field at stormy Ballyshannon. Donegal made light of the conditions in the second half and a Jamie Brennan goal killed the game off well before the end.

“It was a good performance,” said manager Declan Bonner afterwards.

“We played for 75 minutes and we hadn’t been finishing out games well until now. We didn’t play too badly against Tipperary and Fermanagh, but today was a good performance. We had some excellent scores in the first half and we were in total control in the second.

“We started well and got the scores on the board. There was a very stiff breeze, but our second half display was very controlled. It was very, very good.”

After losses to Tipperary and Fermanagh, Donegal produced a grandstand finish by beating Armagh, Cork and Kildare to book their place in Saturday evening’s final against Meath at Croke Park.

“There was a lot of talk about us after the defeat to Fermanagh,” said Bonner.

“We were disappointed as a group, we were five up and we didn’t see it out. We had a lot of young players on that day and we just lacked a bit of experience. Sometimes you learn more in a defeat like that.

He added: “It’s nice to get back into Division One,” added Bonner.

“That’s what we set out to achieve at the start of the year, to get back up with the big guys again. It’s important now for us to finish the job next week against Meath.

“It’s all building momentum for the Championship.

“We want to be in the top tier, we want to be winning Ulster and in the Super 8s. We’re just like any other team with ambitions. We’ll take this on board and get ready for Saturday evening at Croke Park.”

Meanwhile, Cian O’Neill’s Kildare finished safely in mid-table but they have a lot of work to do if they hope to reach the Super8s again this year.

“We’re just not playing at the level we can,” he said.

“The League has been inconsistent. We’ve had some very poor performances like today and the Fermanagh game. It’s trying to get that consistency and we have to look at ourselves.

“It’s easy to point at something that looks very obvious, but when you give a ball away 150 metres from your own goal, all of a sudden you have to chase back. That’s what hurts you. We repeatedly gave the ball away like that in the first half.

“It doesn’t come down to conditioning. It comes down to game management and decision making. We weren’t as clued in as we thought we were. We just lost our focus in the match and Donegal capitalised.”

With a howling wind at their backs, the youthful home side wasted no time playing early ball to Michael Murphy and Oisin Gallen, one of the finds of this campaign for Donegal.

Murphy played in Jamie Brennan for the opener and then Jason McGee, who saw a lot of the ball in midfield, kicked accurately for Niall O’Donnell, another emerging talent, who posted the first of his three points.

Kildare quickly realized that kicking the ball to their forwards was pointless. They had no option but to run it but their cause wasn’t helped by the heavy pitch which made bouncing the ball almost impossible.

They tried to pick their way through the Donegal rearguard but, with lively Chris Healy well marked by Ryan McHugh, lacked the guile to make headway and were repeatedly turned over and hit hard on the counterattack.

A steady stream of wind-assisted white flags went up. Gallen, quick, two-footed and full of clever movement, scored his side’s third and Donegal, smelling blood, pressed up on Kildare kick-outs that barely crossed their 45-yard line and hemmed them into their own half.

O’Donnell scored his second and Jason McGee became the sixth man in green and gold to register a score when he sent Donegal into a 0-9 to no-score lead.

Kildare finally registered after 24 minutes but Gallen, O’Donnell, Daire O Baoill and Murphy all added to Donegal’s account and left them a dozen points ahead at the break.

The visitors were desperate for a good start in the second half and Paddy Brophy began with a point inside the first minute. However, it proved to be a false dawn and Eoin Doyle was sin-binned for an off-the-ball incident.

Murphy dropped back into a role as a midfield playmaker, allowing McFadden to play as a sweeper, and McGee continued to surge forward, lashing a shot wide when he broke through on the right.

A goal then would have finished it but the let-off was merely a stay of execution for Kildare whose chances evaporated after Flynn fouled the raiding Eoghan Ban Gallagher and was shown a second yellow card.

News of a second Meath goal in Navan filtered through as McGee slipped in Brennan and he beat Mark Donnellan to send Donegal into an impregnable position at 1-16 to 0-4 ahead.

To their credit, Kildare continued to battle, even posting four points in-a-row, but the home side remained in control. Neil McGee came on to equal Colm McFadden’s record of 173 appearances for Donegal and Ryan McHugh, the peerless Murphy and Caolan McGonagle all hit points as they cantered to their fifth, and most impressive, win of this campaign.

Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, B McCole, E Ban Gallagher; D O Baoill (0-1), L McLoone, R McHugh (0-3); H McFadden (0-1), J McGee (0-2); N O’Donnell (0-3), S McMenamin, C McGonagle (0-1); O Gallen (0-4), M Murphy (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 45), J Brennan (1-1)

Subs: N McGee for McCole (57), E McHugh for O Baoill (61), P Brennan for Gallen (63), F McGlynn for McLoone (66), C Ward for McHugh (68)

Yellow card: McFadden (23)

Kildare: M Donnellan; D Hyland, M O’Grady, K Flynn; C O’Donoghue (0-1), E Doyle, P Kelly: K Feely, T Moolick; F Conway, P Brophy (0-1), K Cribben; N Flynn (0-2 frees), C Healy, J Hyland (0-2)

Subs: A Tyrrell (0-4, 0-1 free), J Murray for Conway (48), A Masterson for Flynn (53), T Archbold for Brophy (57), M Barrett for O’Donoghue (62)

Yellow cards: Flynn (26 & 41), Murray (57)

Red card: Flynn (41)

Black card: Doyle (37)

Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)

Attendance: 3,520

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