Any doubts that Donegal had lost their sparkle were well and truly put to bed as they put Laois to the sword in their opening game.
Thirteen points separated the sides at the finish in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, and it could have been even more as the men from the north west won pulling up. And it could have been mor in the closing 15 minutes.
It may be a long way from Croke Park in August, and some of thebig guns in the championship. Laois may not be a big hitter but it certainly went a long way down the road of beginning the process of slaying the ghost of last’s year’s 16 point mauling by Mayo.
Donegal led by four points, 1-6 to 0-5 at half-time, despite playing into the teeth of a biting cold wind that blew directly down O’Moore Park. Odhran MacNiallais scored the Donegal goal while Michael Murphy posted three points with Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Anthony Thompson and Christy Toye also raising white flags.
Toye, a late replacement for Darach O’Connor who did not start due to a hamstring strain, marked his first start since March 2012 against Dublin with a super point and an illuminating first half performance.
The St Michael’s manlined out at centre forward and was in the thick of the action from very early as Donegal playing with the greater flamboyance and flare carved open the home defence with monotonous ease in the opening 37 plus minutes. Toye was class in the first half.
Such was his influence on the opening half that he had the award wrapped up by the half-time whistle in a game that ended as contested in the first minute of the second half when Colm McFadden banged home goal number two.
McFadden won a long delivery from Leo McLoone before turning his man and from five metres gave Graham Brody no chance in the Laois goals.
Leading 2-6 to 0-5 and the O’Mooore men visibly floored the game turned into the proverbial turkey shoot from then until the finish as Donegal scored at will.
Murphy, McFadden, Mac Niallais and substitutes Patrick McBrearty and Hugh McFadden all landed points and Donegal had stretched their advantage out to 16 points before Munnelly, scored the local’s first point of second period.
Laois ,by this stage, were also reduced to 14 men. Corner back Denis Booth received a straight red card on 56 for a high frontal challenge on Mark McHugh on the edge of his own penalty area. Game over!
Michael Murphy drove over the first score of the game inside 90 seconds from a 34 metre free. And while Laois, who played the more tradition direct ball game, hit the next two scores courtesy of Donie Kingston and Evan Carroll, Donegal were back in front by the 20 minute when MacNiallais ghosting from the right wing palmed past the advancing Brody, for the first goal.
The goal came from a super move - one of many in the half -beginning with Mark McHugh back in his own half and going through Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson who provided the slide rule pass for Mac Niallais.
Boosted by the goal rampant Donegal landed points courtesy of Dermot Molloy, Anthony Thompon and Toye while Munnelly and O’Loughlin scored for the locals before Murphy from a 45 and play rounded off the first half scoring to put Donegal in the driving seat.
Overall this was a first class performance by Donegal who had ten different scorers.
Donegal:Paul Durcan; Karl Lacey, Neil McGee, Ryan McHugh; Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson (0-1); Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney (0-2); Mark McHugh (0-1), Christy Toye (0-1), Odhran MacNiallais (1-1); Colm McFadden (1-3,2f), Michael Murphy (0-6, 2f, 2’45s’), Dermot Molloy (0-1). Subs: Declan Walsh for K Lacey (42); Patrick McBrearty (0-1) for D Molloy, Hugh McFadden (0-2) for R Kavanagh (both 46); Martin O’Reilly for C Toye (52, inj); Eamon Doherty for F McGlynn (62); Stephen McLaughlin for O MacNialllais (66)
Laois: Graham Brody; Denis Booth, Mark Timmons, Peter O’Leary (0-1); Darren Strong, Padraig McMahon, Adam Ryan; Kevin Meaney, John O’Loughlin (1-1); James Finn, Donal Kingston (0-1), Billy Sheehan; Ross Munnelly (0-4,2f), Evan Carroll (0-1), David Conway (0-1). Subs: Paul Cahillane for J Finn; Paul Begley for A Ryan (both h/t); Stephen Attride fro B Sheehan (57); Eoin Lowry for S Attride (70, inji).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).