Donegal suffered their first defeat of the campaign when they failed to sparkle against Down in Pairc Esler, Newry.
In almost perfect conditions, Donegal were always trailing and just didn’t have the sparkle in the front line to trouble a Down defence that were always willing to foul and not give away any goal chances.
As a result Donegal struggled badly to get the scores necessary. There wasn’t the penetration necessary in the second half when they had the wind at their backs. They also hit 12 wides, six in each half, and some of them were poor wides.
But overall, Down were the better side and Donegal, while still at the top of the table on scoring average, they now need to win their final two games to ensure promotion and a place in the Division 2 final.
Donegal were 1-5 to 0-4 down at half-time and the lead did not flatter the home side, who probably should have had a penalty in the 8th minute when Paul Durcan seemed to upend Conor Laverty just feet from the Donegal line.
The opening exchanges saw lots of poor passing before Conor Garvey hit a magnificent opening point from outside the 45m line.
The penalty incident was followed by two Donegal wides before full-back Brendan McArdle exposed a huge gap in the Donegal defence, powering through with the move ending with Niall Madine driving to the net through a ruck of players on 12 minutes.
From there to half-time it was nip and tuck with Donegal coming back into the game thanks a huge effort from Rory Kavanagh at midfield. An Eamon McGee intercept at midfield led to Dermot Molloy getting their first score and it was almost point for point after that with Michael Murphy (2), Molloy and McFadden getting Donegal scores while Down’s best player Mark Poland (2), Kevin McKernan, Donal O’Hare (free) and Madine replied for Down.
Donegal had a great start to the second half with Martin McElhinney combining with Christy Toye before shooting a great score. When Leo McLoone added a second within two minutes, Donegal were back within two and looking good.
But Down hit back with Donal O’Hare punishing a soft free on Mark Poland and Conor Garvey added his second of the game.
Michael Murphy converted a ‘45’ on 44 minutes before the game became very cluttered and there was no further score until five minutes from full-time. In between Donegal had plenty of chances with Calm McFadden wide from a 30m free and David Walsh missing from close range.
When Conor Laverty edged Down four clear again on 65 minutes, the game was up for Donegal. They kept fighting with Neil Gallagher landing a long range point and Colm McFadden finished a free after Down pulled down Darach O’Connor.
In the final minute Conor Laverty was black carded after hauling down Patrick McBrearty, but Donegal were unable to get the goal they needed.
Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Brendan McArdle, Owen Costello; Ryan Boyle, Aidan Carr, Conor Garvey (0-2); Peter Turley, Kevin McKernan (0-1); Conor Laverty (0-1), Mark Poland (0-2), Conor Maginn; Donal O’Hare (0-2,2f), Niall Madine (1-1), Jerome Johnston. Subs., Ryan Johnston for J Johnston 55; Benny Coulter for Madine 68; Peter Fitzpatrick for Laverty, black card 71.
Donegal: Paul Durcan: Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey; Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone (0-1), Anthony Thompson; Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney (0-1); Mark McHugh, Christy Toye, Odhran MacNiallais; Colm McFadden (0-2,2f), Michael Murphy(0-3,f,45), Dermot Molloy (0-2). Subs., Neil Gallagher (0-1) for Kavanagh; Patrick McBrearty for Molloy; David Walsh for MacNiallais, all 44; Darach O’Connor for Toye 59.
Referee: Cathal O’Hagan (Tyrone)