Donegal dream of back-to-back Nicky Rackard Cup All-Ireland triumphs were well and truly ended by Fingal in O’Donnell Park, on Saturday.
The reigning champions went into the contest with a place in the final beckoning on the back of their recent good run and their 2-16 to 0-8 victory over the North Dubliners, in the Division 2B league promotion/relegation play-off at the end of last month in Breffni Park..
But Ray Durack’s charges ,who except for the opening 20 minutes, were flat footed and off colour. They were a pale shadow of the side that defeated Louth and Monaghan, in recent weeks, in the Nicky Rackard and against Roscommon, in the Division 3 A final.
But while Fingal for their fighting spirit were the worthy victors at the finish the defeat was all the more difficult to fathom after Donegal’s opening 20 minutes after which they led 1-8 to 0-2.
Enda McDermott scored the Donegal goal inside three minutes to give the home side a perfect start while Kevin Campbell converted three frees; Danny Cullen and Sean McVeigh posted a brace each and Ronan McDermott knocked over a delightful point for a rampant Donegal.
Cullen’s two strikes one from close on 80 metres and the other from just outside his own 45 were two massive scores and a feature of the opening 20 minutes.
Fingal scored the first of their opening half goals on five minutes when Dean Kelly first timed past Paul Burns after the Donegal rearguard were found napping.
And while they did not score again for close on 20 minutes, they finished the half with a late surge to go in just a point down at half-time, Donegal 1-8, Fingal 2-4.
Donegal, who has just seemed to switch off, failed to score in the closing 15 minutes of the first half and did not score again until three minutes into the new half when Ciaran Mathewson restored his team’s lead seconds after Peter Daly had tied up the game, from a 65, within two minutes of the restart.
The sides were level twice more in the third quarter with Dean Kelly, who along with Daly, was one of the architects of the win, and Danny Cullen traded points.
Ray Durack’s men had their noses back in front again courtesy of a Mathewson ‘65’ on 55 minutes and it looked as if the locals had hit for home when Mathewson converted from a close in free.
But the loss of Danny Cullen to injury seconds earlier proved to be a hammer blow. Cullen, who was Donegal’s best player by a good stretch, was carried off with a leg injury which was confirmed later as ligament damage.
Without their spiritual leader on the field it all went wrong for Donegal in the closing 15 minutes. Daly converted from 30 metres to tie up the game for the fifth time.
To make matters worse they were reduced to 14 after Shane Gallen picked up a second yellow card for the foul that led to the equalising point.
The momentum was now very much with the visitors and Daly punished some indiscipline in the Donegal rearguard with two close-in frees and to add to Donegal’s woes they were reduced to 13 players in the closing seconds when Enda McDermott was shown a straight red card following an injury time goal mouth scramble and a last gasp desperate Donegal bid for a winning goal.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Brendan Tourish, Justin McGee, Shane Gallen; Jamesie Donnelly, Joe Boyle, Christopher McDermott; Paul Sheridan, Danny Cullen (0-3, 2f); Ronan McDermott (0-1), Enda McDermott (1-0), Seán McVeigh (0-2); Kevin Campbell (0-3, 3f), Paddy Hannigan, Ciarán Mathewson (0-3, 2f, 1 ‘65). Subs: Justin Browne for Cullen (59 mins), Eugene Organ for Campbell (63 mins).
Fingal: H Murray-Hession; P Coyne, I Kennedy, A Morris; N Ring, D Vaughan, P Sheridan; D Hattie, R McGarry; D Kelly (1-2), A Richardson (0-1), C O’Flynn; C Foley (0-1), D Smyth, P Daly (0-7, 6f, 1 ‘65). Subs: B Kelly for P Sheridan (10 mins), Danny Butterly for C Foley (46 mins).
Referee: J Clarke (Cavan).