Ulster GAA Football Championship Semi-Final:
Donegal 0-12 Down 0-9
Donegal advanced to the Ulster Championship Final for the third year in a row with a hard-fought victory over a dogged Down at Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday.
The All-Ireland champions were seriously tested by James McCartan’s side, who produced a highly committed and capable defensive performance, which stifled Donegal and kept the Mourne Men in the game for the entire 70 minutes.
Although Donegal led for the almost the whole game, the lead never went beyond four points, and never beyond three in the second half. The outstanding free-taking of Donal O’Hare was crucial for Down, and kept the scoreboard ticking over for them. However, in the end they didn’t have enough class up front to truly open up Donegal, who were efficient when their chances came to them.
Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden both kicked five points apiece, and their accuracy and capability close to goal ultimately won the day for Donegal, who will play either Cavan or Monaghan in the Ulster final in Clones on July 21.
Donegal led 0-6 to 0-4 at the end of a highly congested first-half where open space and chances from play were at a real premium. Donegal dominated the opening quarter, but Down came back into the game strongly in the final 15 minutes of the half.
Down focused almost exclusively on defence in the opening quarter, but Donegal took advantage of that conservatism, and led 0-4 to 0-0 within 14 minutes. Murphy kicked the opening two, one from play and one from a free, and then McFadden did the exact same, his effort from play a superb left-footed effort.
Down were living off scraps, but O’Hare’s excellence from frees kept McCartan’s side in touch. He kicked two fine set-pieces, one a testy one from 45 metres, to make it 0-4 to 0-2, and following Donegal scores from Murphy and Patrick McBrearty, another brilliant O’Hare free from the right wing made it 0-6 to 0-3 with 27 minutes played.
Down’s highly committed defensive effort was finally beginning to pay off, and they were the better side for the final 10 minutes of the half. They were increasingly able to break down Donegal attacks, and they finally knocked over a point from play when Mark Poland made a clever sidestep and curled an effort over the bar with his right foot.
It meant Down trailed by just two points at the break, but a superb Rory Kavanagh point a minute after the restart ended a lengthy scoreless Donegal run, and opened up a three point lead again. The second half continued in the same vein as the first half though, and scoring chances remained limited.
Following Kavanagh’s point, there were no scores from play for almost 20 minutes, with the only points being frees from the nerveless O’Hare (2) and Murphy. Then, two superb efforts from play from McFadden’s left foot, either side of O’Hare’s first of the day from play, made it 0-10 to 0-7, with little more than 10 minutes to go.
Down had battled superbly, and got to within two again when substitute Jerome Johnston fired over the bar, but Donegal showed the mark of champions once again as they saw out the victory ruthlessly.
McFadden, who had an excellent second half, fired over a free to extend the lead to three again, and although a Danny Savage free kept Down in it with five minutes to go, a monster free off the ground from Michael Murphy, from a full 50 metres, sealed the victory for Donegal.
Scorers for Donegal: C McFadden 0-5 (2f), M Murphy 0-5 (4f), P McBrearty 0-1, R Kavanagh 0-1
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 0-6 (5f), M Poland 0-1, J Johnston 0-1, D Savage 0-1
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, R Bradley; David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Subs: M O’Reilly for David Walsh (34), M McElhinney for R Bradley (35), R McHugh for F McGlynn (HT), R Wherity for L McLoone (46), D Molloy for P McBrearty (66).
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn, D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle, K King, K McKernan, A Rogers, M Poland, N Madine, C Laverty, B Coulter, D O’Hare.
Subs: R Mallon for K Quinn (49), J Johnston for B Coulter (57), D Savage for N Madine (62).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)