The step-up to Divison 2B hurling is proving more difficult than perhaps even Donegal manager, Ray Durack would have anticipated.
Saturday’s defeat at the hands of a stylish Meath side means it’s no wins from three games for Donegal.
And while they were always going to be up against it against Meath, what will worry Durack most is the ease with which his team’s opponents went on to win this game in the second half.
The visitors had led by five points, 1-6 to 1-1 at half time. However, with the elements at their backs for the second half, one could understand why Donegal could have felt confident coming out after the break.
But disappointingly, they never looked like eating into the Meath lead and instead it was the Leinster men who found another gear and eased to what in the end, was an all-too comfortable victory.
In fairness to Donegal, their prospects before the ball was even thrown in at O’Donnell Park on Saturday weren’t helped by the loss of two key players from the starting 15 in full-back Martin McGrath and full-forward, Kevin Campbell.
Their absence, coupled with the missing injured trio of Paddy Hannigan, Joe Boyle and Danny Cullen, left Durack without the spine of a side that really could do with having everyone on board for the challenges that Divison 2B now presents.
So the sight of defender Paul Sheridan being helped from the action with just over ten minutes played, will only have added to Durack’s deepening frustration.
The Aodh Ruadh player looked in severe discomfort as he hobbled from the pitch. He was replaced by last year’s county minor, Jack O’Loughlin from Buncrana, who came on for his senior debut.
Depleted Donegal couldn’t be faulted for effort in this game. But quite simply, Meath, a long established team at this level, had way too much strength and know-how for their opponents and were full value for their 14-point win.
In difficult, blustery conditions, Meath settled quickest and were 0-4 to no score in front before they struck for their first goal. Jack Regan’s free on 17 minutes dropped short and Alan Douglas showed great awareness to flick the ball home from close in.
Donegal didn’t open their account until the 27th minute thanks to a Lee Henderson free but Regan responded with two frees at the other end.
However, with half time fast approaching, Donegal got themselves right back into the contest when midfielder, Ronan McDermott, pounced for a goal. Enda McDermott’s shot for a point dropped under the bar and while keeper, Charlie Bird batted it away, Ronan McDermott followed up to boot the ball in past the keeper.
So, having been out-played for much of the half, Donegal went in at half time only five points down.
But that was as good as it got. Meath, obviously expecting their opponents to come at them after the break, lifted their game and got some early points on the board after the restart.
Henderson did respond with a free for Durack’s side, but Meath were finding their range at the other end.
Free-taker Jack Regan ended as top scorer with six points, but it was the point-taking ability of corner-forward, Willie McGrath, that really caught the eye.
Meath led 1-11 to 1-2 by the time they struck for their second goal on 51 minutes. Centre half forward Gary Kelly showed a fantastic piece of skill to evade a Donegal challenge before crashing the ball in past Dylan Laverty.
A couple of late points from Henderson put a slightly better look on the scoreline for Donegal. But they will have done little to ease the disappointment within the Donegal squad who have now lost three on the bounce in the league.
With an away match to come next week against Down, their task gets no easier.
Donegal: Dylan Lafferty; Brendan Tourish, Pauric Doherty, Mark Callaghan; Paul Sheridan, Jamesie. Donnelly, Niall Cleary; Ronan McDermott (1-0), Sean McVeigh; Eddie Lynch, Lee Henderson (0-4, 3f), Enda McDermott; Bernard Lafferty, Stephen Gillespie, Ciaran Mathewson.
Subs: Jack O’Loughlin for Sheridan (11 mins), Chris Kilgannon for Gillespie and Sean Curran for Lynch (50), Ciaran Kilgannon for Lafferty (57), Donal McLoughlin for Matthewson (65).
Meath: C. Bird; C. Reilly, S. Brennan, S. Whitty; D. Healy, K. Keoghan, P. Keogh; K. Ennis, J. Toher; P. Connelly, G. Kelly (1-0), A. Douglas (1-1); J. Regan (0-6, 5f, 1 ‘65), L. Martyn, W. McGrath (0-4).
Subs: Michael Dunne (0-2) for Martyn and A. Healy (0-1) for Conneely (28), S. Morris (0-1) for Ennis (35), D. Reilly for Toher (60) S. Quigley for McGrath (63).
Referee: L. McAuley (Antrim).