There was drama and excitement in Pairc Esler, Newry, last night as Donegal just failed to take something from their first game in Division One of the Allianz National Football League, going down by the minimum in a very close contest.
Donegal had two late chances to gain a draw with goalkeeper Paul Durcan from a ‘45’ and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy both just off target.
Donegal started very poorly with Down posting three points in the first three minutes and then added a goal from centre-back Liam Doyle.
But gradually Donegal found their feet and two great points from Mark McHugh saw them get back into the contest and they were just two points adrift at the break, 1-5 to 0-6.
Then they had a great start to the second half and a goal finished by Martin McElhinney put them in front at one stage. But Down, who have just three home games in the campaign, hit back and got their noses in front again, and held on grimly as Donegal just failed to get that equaliser.
It was a gritty display from Donegal, who certainly deserved to get something from the game. There were some outstanding displays with Paddy McGrath and Karl Lacey outstanding in defence, while Mark McHugh ran himself into the ground and Patrick McBrearty worked really hard up front.
There was also a National League debut for young Marty O’Reilly from MacCumhaill’s who came in during the second half and showed up really well.
Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, while disappointed, was also thinking about the positives from the game. “The positive was to get the ball rolling. I would be disappointed that when Down went ahead with five minutes to go, Donegal got a lot of ball but were a little snatchy with a couple of efforts which lacked composure and we could have got a draw,” said McGuinness.
“The point would have been great. Last year we got a point in the opening game against Sligo and it was a galvanising factor for the year. But it is tough in Division One,” said Jim, who said that he wasn’t able to start Martin McElhinney, who wasn’t 100% in the warm up but came on and got a good goal. “Unfortunately he went over on his ankle towards the end,” said Jim.
Former Donegal footballer, Sean Ferriter, was impressed with the Donegal performance and felt they should have got something from the game.
“When they got the goal they were in the driving seat and they played very well overall. They played very good combined football and had a few chances near the end. When they got the goal they should have forced the game more,” said Ferriter.
“I was impressed with the team in general. They should have got at least a point from the game. It was a good match with plenty of good scores,” said the former Donegal star.
Donegal will have the chance to get back on track next Sunday when they host Laois in the second game of the league in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.