Donegal clinched a final place in Division 3A with a hard earned victory over Louth at Darver yesterday.
It was Donegal who opened an early lead thanks to two points from Paddy Hannighan and Enda McDermott. Louth were unfortunate to be behind in the early stages though, as they battled well in midfield and could have got on the scoreboard had Diarmuid Murphy sent his free the right side of the posts.
Yet it wasn’t long until they were level. Gerard Smith sent over the Wee County’s first score from tight on the left and Murphy made amends for his earlier miss to tie the match in the sixth minute.
But the complexion of the game changed when Hannighan struck home the game’s first goal for Donegal in the eighth minute. Following a scuffle in front of the Louth goal, Hannighan slammed the small ball past James Connolly.
Just one minute later the home side should have raised their own green flag when Murphy hammered the ball at the Donegal goals. Paul Burns reacted brilliantly and blocked out the full forward’s effort.
Murphy did fire Louth’s third point of the contest over Burns’ bar in the eleventh minute to leave just two points in it.
A point apiece from Ciaran Mathewson and Murphy once more followed before Louth found the back of the net thanks to the ubiquitous Murphy in the 22nd minute. Murphy coasted into the Donegal backline and smartly chipped the small ball over the onrushing Burns’.
That one point lead was short lived as Ciaran Mathewson quickly levelled the clash with a free. A more confident looking Wee County struck two more points before Sean McVeigh narrowed the home side’s lead to just the one in the 31st minute. But a Gary Rellis effort from range left Louth ahead by two points at the interval.
Facing into the wind now, the home side needed to react quickly and set the tempo early on. However a Kevin Campbell free set Donegal on their way in the very first minute of the new half. David Mahony restored Louth’s two point advantage in the 42nd minute after a slow start to the second period.
That all changed when Enda McDermott slapped home a brilliant ball across the backline with Connolly well and truly beaten in the Louth goal. Ahead by one, Donegal were hoping to push on, but a resilient home defence kept them at bay, with points being traded by either side to keep it tight on the scoreboard.
However three vital scores in a row from Donegal ultimately swayed the result in favour of the Ulster side. Two Kevin Campbell frees and a Mathewson point from play seemed to deflate the home side with seven minutes left to play.
Louth captain Shane Callan did try and lift his troops with two tremendous scores in the closing minutes, but Donegal had an answer to them and swept home three more points before the end of the game to set up a Division 3A final with Roscommon.
Scorers Donegal Kevin Campbell (0-6, 3f), Paddy Hannighan (1-1), Ciaran Mathewson (0-3), Enda McDermott (1-1), Sean McVeigh (0-4). Louth Diarmuid Murphy (1-7, 6f), Darren Hanrahan (0-2), Shane Callan (0-2, 1f), Gerard Smith (0-1), David Mahony (0-1), Gary Rellis (0-1), Jason Condon (0-1).
Donegal: Paul Burns; Martin McGrath, Justin McGee, Johnny Downey; Christopher McDermott, Joe Boyle , Jamsie Donnelly; Paul Sheridan, Justin Browne; Kevin Meehan, Enda McDermott, Sean McVeigh; Kevin Campbell, Paddy Hannighan, Ciaran Mathewson. Subs: Eugene Organ for K Meehan, 40 mins.
Louth: James Connolly; Conor Kerrigan, Paddy McCormack, Andrew McCrave; Cathal Ryan, Cian Hayes, Ronan Byrne; Shane Callan, Jason Condon; Gerard Smyth, Gary Rellis, David Kettle; Darren Hanrahan, Diarmuid Murphy, David Mahony. Shane Maguire for G Rellis, 48 mins; Oisin Drumm for D Hanrahan, 57 mins; Ian Kelleher for G Smyth, 67 mins.
Referee: Gareth McGrath (Dublin)