Donegal showed there is plenty of life in the old dog yet with Saturday evening’s ten point victory over Galway.
Without the inspirational Karl Lacey, out through injury, and losing Eamon McGee to injury at half-time, Donegal turned in a masterful second half performance before a crowd of 25,665 in Croke Park.
They also lost Paddy McGrath to a black card in the middle of the second period.
A point down after Adrian Varley kicked Galway ahead, 0-8 to 0-7, six minutes into the second half, Donegal turned up the volume to go two up, 1-7 to 0-8, by the 47th minute thanks to two points from Michael Murphy and one from Odhran MacNiallais.
The half-time introduction of Martin McElhinney to midfield, and Anthony Thompson, gave Donegal energy and ball-winning ability which they didn’t seem to have in the second quarter.
McElhinney’s presence also released Michael Murphy to the edge of the Galway square and allowed MacNiallais play in a more attacking role.
Both men played a lead part in the Donegal second half revival with MacNiallais kicking two massive long range points, and Murphy winning a number of crucial frees. He also broke the ball down for Ryan McHugh’s clinching 60th minute goal.
Donegal showed three changes from the team announced on Friday night. Eamonn Doherty replaced Anthony Thompson in the half-backline , Hugh McFadden slotted in at wing forward instead of Christy Toye and Martin O’Reilly replaced Martin McElhinney. This led to Michael Murphy going to midfield with O’ Reilly lining out at in the attack.
After a sprightly opening with points from MacNiallais, Colm McFadden (2) and a sixth minute Patrick McBrearty goal, Donegal led 1-4 to 0-3 by the 15th minute mark, McBrearty also scoring a point.
Danny Cummins scored the game’s opener and Gary Sice and Thomas Flynn raised the Galway opening quarter white flags.
But with Galway winning the midfield battle and Paul Connery making his presence felt in the half-forward line, Donegal were in bother.
Despite their bright opening, they would go 23 minutes of the half without scoring. In this period Galway hit four unanswered points, from Adrian Varley, Sice (2) and Connery to head to the dressing room on level terms - 1-4 to 0-7, and much the happier of the two camps.
Odhran MacNiallais, Colm McFadden, Ryan McHugh, Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty - surprisingly replaced in the middle of the second half- were receiving all the claps on the back at the finish. And rightly so. But once again the Donegal backline and the defensive system were key to this win and especially in the second quarter when Galway were on top.
So air-tight is the Donegal rearguard that for all their domination, Galway didn’t get a sniff of a goal and were restricted to a mere four second half points, two of them Sice frees.
Late goals from Ryan McHugh and substitute, Christy Toye eventually killed off the Galway challenge.
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh (1-0), F McGlynn, E Doherty; N Gallagher, M Murphy (0-3,2f); H McFadden, O MacNiallais (0-3), M McHugh; M O’Reilly, P McBrearty (1-1), C McFadden (0-4,1f). Subs: A Thompson for E McGee (inj, h/t); M McElhinney for M O’Reilly (h/t); Declan Walsh for P McGrath (51); L McLoone (0-1) for P McBrearty (53); C Toye (1-0) for H McFadden (67); David Walsh for C McFadden (71).
Galway: B O’Donoghue; J Duane, F Hanley, C Sweeney; L Silke, G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw; F O’Curraoin, T Flynn (0-1); G Sice (0-4,4f), P Conroy (0-1), M Lundy; A Varley (0-2), D Comer (0-1,f), D Cummins (0-1). Subs: S Walsh (0-1) for A Varley (56); P Sweeney for P Conroy (56); P O’ Gríofa for D Cummins (63); S Denvir for M Lundy (66). M Martin for T Flynn (68), E Tierney for G Sice (68).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).