Conor McGurk Cup final Donegal 2-25 Down 0-22
DONEGAL retained the Conor McGurk Cup but they had to endure some anxious moments against a youthful but accomplished Down side at the Dub in Belfast on Saturday.
Down had a Kehoe Cup game on Sunday so most of their top stars were being rested but their replacements showed loads of pace and quality.
Donegal led by a whopping 2-15 to 0-10 at the break but were outscored by a resurgent Down by 0-9 to 0-2 in the third quarter, where their lead was whittled down to four points by the 48th minute.
Two well-struck goals from Gerard Gilmore and Liam McKinney were the key scores in a most impressive opening half for Donegal, and it was the same two players who got the crucial settling scores when Down closed the gap.
Donegal were out of the traps swiftly and Gilmore split the posts after just a minute. This was quickly followed by a similar effort from Josh McGee Cronolly, who was a late replacement for the injured Ruairi Campbell.
The beavering Brian MacIntyre made it 0-3 to 0-0 before Down midfielder Ciaran Milligan got his side on the board.
The winners struck for their first goal after just eight minutes when Gilmore fielded a great crossfield pass from Ryan Hilferty and crashed the sliotar to the net.
Ben Christie and Donal Hughes replied with points for Down but the lead was swiftly added to two minutes later when Conor O’Grady found Liam McKinney deep inside the Down defence and the rangy Burt lad hammered the ball to the net.
It was all Donegal at this stage as they moved the ball sweetly and Gilmore was a deadly finisher from frees and play on a short pitch. They were well worth their half time lead of 2-15 to 0-10.
Down started the second half strongly and the gifted Oisin McManus landed a series of frees, as did Tom McGrattan.
Donal Hughes, Ben Christie and Ciaran Milligan all landed scores to cut the Donegal lead to 2-17 to 0-19 by the 48th minute.
But cometh the mini-crisis and cometh Gilmore, McKinney and Sean Ward to get the crucial scores to see Donegal home.
Donegal G Gilmore 1-10 (0-6f); L McKinney 1-4; C Gartland 0-3; B MacIntyre 0-2; L White, C Curran, S Gillespie, P Kelly, J McGee Cronolly &
S Ward 0-1 each
Down O McManus 0-9 (0-6f); T McGrattan 0-4; M Fisher, D Hughes & B Christie 0-2 each; N McFarlane, C Milligan & M Dorrian 0-1 each