Allianz National Football League Division 2 Final:
Laois 0-16 Donegal 2-11
Donegal held off a superb second half comeback from Laois to claim the Allianz Football League Division 2 title at Croke Park on Sunday.
Leading at one stage in the second half by eight points, 2-7 to 0-5, after Michael Murphy (penalty) and Colm McFadden had scored their goals, Donegal went 20 minutes without a score in the second half and allowed Laois back into the game.
Laois’ comeback was sparked when Donegal were reduced to 14 men when Adrian Hanlon was sent off in the 42nd minute.
The O’Moore men then kicked seven points in a row to reduce the gap to a single point with ten minutes left, but Donegal, thanks to points from their experienced trio of McFadden, Rory Kavanagh and Kevin Cassidy had just about enough to hold off Laois at the death.
Murphy opened the scoring for Donegal with a well-struck ’45. He might have had an even greater return when the giant Glenswilly man got his fist to Martin McHugh’s diagonal ball, but Laois goalkeeper Eoin Culliton saved well.
The ease with which Donegal carved open goal chances in the opening ten minutes was worrying, with Dermot Molloy smashing a shot off the post after he had carved through the Laois defence, before Kavanagh’s shot was smothered from the rebound.
When McHugh again found space behind the Laois full-back line, he opted to blast the ball over the bar to give his side a 0-2 to 0-1 lead, Niall Donoher having opened Laois’ account.
The goal Donegal had threatened to score materialised on 19 minutes. When Kevin Rafferty dribbled through the Laois defence, he scooped the ball into the path of Murphy, who tumbled under the challenge of Darren Strong; referee Marty Duffy pointed to the spot and Murphy took the kick himself, sending a rocket of a shot past Culliton. McFadden added a point from play almost immediately and Donegal were purring – and more importantly, they led by 1-3 to 0-2.
McFadden, playing in a two-man inside forward line, was making the most of the modest amount of ball coming his way and he grabbed his second score before Ryan Bradley chipped in to leave Donegal five points clear four minutes before the break.
Laois, though, finally found their range in the closing minutes of the half. After a string of wides, MJ Tierney opened his account from a close-range free, before Niall Donoher sent over his second of the afternoon to leave a goal between the sides at the break, 1-5 to 0-5.
Whatever momentum Laois had gathered before the break was quickly punctured on the restart when Murphy slung over a brilliant point from play. Murphy then turned provider for McFadden, lancing through a powderpuff Laois full back line before unselfishly offloading to his former teacher at St Eunan’s College, who finished smartly, with Culliton again left with little chance.
Murphy, the 2009 Young Footballer of the Year, was by now running the show and when he sent over a point straight from a sieline, Donegal led by eight points and looked on course to cruise to the easiest win imaginable.
Inevitably, Laois’ sense of pride meant that they refused to lie down and have their tummies tickled. Their job was helped significantly when Donegal were reduced to 14 men, Adrian Hanlon given his marching orders in the 42nd minute for a red card offence.
Laois grew in confidence and, quite remarkably, they necklaced seven points in a row in a 17-minute spell that turned the game on its head. Substitute Paul Cahillane started Laois’ spell of complete dominance, with Ross Munnelly adding a brace before Donie Kingston notched a free with ten minutes left to leave just a point between the sides, 2-7 to 0-12.
Donegal had been rocked to their core and it was an experienced head, McFadden, who finally stopped the rot – they went 20 minutes without a score – with a reassuring point from a free. Kavanagh and Cassidy chipped in with points from play to give Jim McGuinness’s side a four-point buffer with seven minutes left.
Credit to Laois, though, again they came back to ensure a grandstand finish. Donie Kingston and O’Loughlin (two), the second of which forced Donegal ‘keeper Paul Durkin to expertly tip over the bar left just two points between the sides in added time.
Justin McNulty’s men went desperately in search of more points, but all they would manage was a Cahillane free with the last kick of the game, his shot careering over the bar and with it Laois’ hopes.
Laois Scorers: N Donoher 0-2, R Munnelly 0-3, J O’Loughlin 0-3, MJ Tierney 0-1 (0-1 f), D Strong 0-1, P Cahillane 0-3 (0-1f), D Kingston 0-2 (0-1f), C Begley 0-1.
Donegal Scorers: M Murphy 1-3 (0-1 ’45, 0-1 sl, 1-0 pen), C McFadden 1-3 (0-1f), R Bradley 0-1, M McHugh 0-1, K Cassidy 0-1, R Kavanagh 0-1, D Walsh 0-1.
Laois: E Culliton; D Booth, K Meaney, M Timmons; D Strong, S Julian, P O’Leary; P Clancy, B Quigley; C Begley, J O’Loughlin, N Donoher; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, MJ Tierney. Subs: Cahir Healy for D Booth ’30, P Cahillane for P Clancy (HT), D Kingston for Tierney ’43, K Lillis for Sheehan ’66.
Donegal: P Durkan; M Boyle, K Rafferty, K Lacey; A Thompson, F McFlynn, K Cassidy; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; A Hanlon, M McHugh, D Molloy; R Bradley, M Murphy, C McFadden. Subs: N Gallagher for Rafferty ’43, E Wade for Boyle 52’ (temp), D McLaughlinn for Molloy ’54, Boyle for Wade ’54, D Walsh for McElhiney ’60.
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligeach)