The Donegal minors had to dig deep on two occasions before they finally broke the All-Ireland final hoodoo in Croke Park yesterday.
It was a magnificent performance, full of guts and quality. Even when Dublin struck a goal against the run of play in the second half to take a two point lead, Donegal kept coming back and in the end were able to ride the last Dublin storm in added time.
They had many heroes, most notably Stephen McBrearty with four points from play; Ethan O’Donnell, who was magnificent as substitute; John Campbell in the opening half; a tigerish Danny Monagle and Micheal Carroll, who never stopped at midfield; Cian Mulligan, who came up with two great scores.
Donegal were very nervous for much of the opening half and after 21 minutes Dublin led by 0-5 to 0-1, and things were looking rather glum.
A pointed free from Lorcan Connor after four minutes which cancelled out Jack Burke’s opener for Dublin was all Donegal had to show for their efforts.
Dublin were cutting through the Donegal defence with easy while Donegal were labouring, mostly around the 45m line.
Big Caolan McGonigle was forced off with a blood injury with Ethan O’Donnell the temporary substitution. In the reshuffle Donegal sent John Campbell to the edge of the square. Campbell, named at No. 14, was probably Donegal’s best forward, but was out around midfield.
The switch changed the game with his Inishowen teammate Tony McClenaghan bursting through and sending in high to Campbell, who flicked to the Dublin net to send the Donegal support to their feet.
That was on 22 minutes. Within two minutes Campbell had added two more points to push Donegal in front for the first time. Indeed, Michael Carroll, who was involved in much of Donegal’s good play, fisted a bad wide.
Lorcan Connor added another point after good work by Niall Harley and Stephen McBrearty on 26 minutes.
Chris Sallier responded for Dublin but before half-time Cian Mulligan and Stephen McBrearty landed two more mighty points to leave Donegal ahead by 1-6 to 0-6 at the break.
Dublin had a point within 15 seconds of the restart from Eoghan McHugh and Con O’Callaghan added another before Cian Mulligan lifted the siege. O’Callaghan converted a free but Stephen McBrearty replied with the outside of his right, started by a great block by Danny Monagle to deprive Conor Kavanagh a goal. It was a poor restart for Donegal as they also lost Niall Friel to a black card.
Chris Sallier and McBrearty traded points by the 45th minute before Dublin struck for their goal, Colm Basquel taking a quick free which caught Donegal napping and Jack Burke finished. A minute later in the 47th minute Basquel pushed Dublin two clear as the Hill were in full voice.
But it was then that Donegal showed their steel. Ethan O’Donnell won a free for Connor to point and he was involved again before McBrearty levelled matters with five minutes left.
Two minutes from time after Gavin McBride was off target with two frees, Caolan McGonigle’s long range free dropped short and Ethan O’Donnell was alert to collect and fire over what proved to be the winner.
Dublin pushed forward and Donegal had to concede a few frees and a ‘45’, but they hung on to reach their Holy Grail.
It was a victory for pure heart because this Donegal minor team did not play their best, but they had the resolve to stick at it when the game was in the fire, especially when Dublin got their goal and the Hill was in full support.
But fair play also to the Donegal support, who gave them the encouragement when they needed it most.
Donegal: Danny Rodgers; Danny Monagle, Ciaran Gillespie, Colm Kelly; Stephen McMenamin, Tony McClenaghan, Cian Mulligan (0-2); Niall Harley, Caolan McGonigle; Stephen McBrearty (0-4), Lorcan Connor (0-3,2f), Micheal Carroll; Jamie Brennan, John Campbell (1-1), Niall Friel. Subs., Conor Morrison for Friel black card 35, Ethan O’Donnell for Harley (0-1) 41; Gavin McBride for Brennan 48; Conor Doherty for Campbell 52; Christian Bonner for Kelly 57.
Dublin: Eiven Whelan; Eoin Murchan, Jack Mullins, Declan Monaghan; Andrew McGowan, Shane Clayton, Glenn O’Reilly; Andrew Foley, Eoghan McHugh (0-1); Conor Kavanagh (0-1), Colm Basquel (0-1), Jack Burke (1-1); Aaron Byrne (0-1), Con O’Callaghan (0-4,2f), Chris Sallier (0-2). Subs., Brian Howard for Kavanagh 48; Donal McIlgorm for Foley 50; Warren Egan for A Byrne 56; Aodhan Fee for McGowan 58.
Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary)