Donegal booked their place in the Ulster Minor Shield final with a convincing nine point victory over Down, in Ballybofey, yesterday afternoon.
Report: Tom Comack
Photos: Thomas Gallagher
And as the nine point winning margin suggests the victory was a convincing one.
Except for the opening quarter hour when Down held their own and again in the closing ten minutes when they put on a late spurt to score a goal and two points, Donegal bossed the game.
Donegal were in a strong position at half-time as they led 1-9 to 0-4 with Ryan McHugh scoring 1-5 of his total tally of 1-9 in the opening half-hour.
The goal came from the penalty spot on the stoke of half-time when Colm Melaugh was foiled in the Down goal area.
And the game was long over as a contest by the time the Mourne Co were reduced to 13 players when midfielder Donal McKeever and wing forward Ronan McAlinden both got their marching orders for second yellow card offence within minutes of each other at the end of the third quarter.
Leading 1-12 to 1-4 with two spare men Donegal eased off a little and manager Stephen Friel withdrew Eoin and Ryan McHugh midway through the half after both picked up yellow cards. This was more as a precautionary measure.
The Down goals came on 38 and 50 minutes and were scored by corner forward Jack Haughey, but were only academic and gave the final scoreline a respectable look to it.
Ryan McHugh once again turned in a man of the match performance as he dictated for long periods especially when it mattered from his anchor role in the heart of the defence.
But overall this was a better display from Donegal with Hugh McFadden giving the side a physical dimension around midfield. Conor Harkin, also in the engine room, and the full-back line of Conor Parke, Nicholas Breslin, Gary Kelly looking solid this was possibly Donegal’s best performance of the campaign.
It certainly was a big improvement on their recent outings against Antrim, Derry and Tyrone and will be encouraging for manager Stephen Friel and his backroom team.
But the win should also carry a major health warning as Down manager, Pete McGrath, made a number of changes and alterations to the team, even when they were still in the contest in the first half.
Most notably he replaced centre-forward Sean McGonigle after 25 minutes with the number 11 causing Donegal problema and playeing a major part in opening the Donegal rearguard for their four first half-points.
Donegal will now face Armagh in the Shield next Saturday as they continue their preparations for their May 20th Ulster Championship opener with Cavan.
Armagh defeated Fermanagh 2-18 to 1-8 in the other semi-final, also played yesterday, and the Orchard Co provide Stephen Friel and his men with a much sterner test than the Down men.
Donegal scorers: Ryan McHugh 1-9, 1-0 penalty, 0-6f; Conor Harkin 0-3; Cathal McGettigan 0-1; John Fitzgerald 0-1; Calum Gallagher 0-1.
Down: Jack Haughey 2-0; Ronan McAlinden 0-2,2f; Conor McGraddy 0-2; Packie O’Hagan Donnach McAleenan 0-1 each.
Donegal: Daniel Mullarkey; Gary Kelly, Nicholas Breslin, Conor Parke; Callum Gallagher, Hugh McFadden, Darragh Mulgrew; Raymond McNamee, Conor Harkin; John Fitzgerald, Mark Gallagher, Cathal McGettigan; Eoin McHugh, Colm Melaugh, Ryan McHugh. Subs: Kevin O’Loughlin for C. Melaugh (32 inj); Conor McBrearty for J. Fitzgerald (36); Oisin Carr for M.Gallagher (44); Kevin McNern for R. McHugh (50); Conor McCormack for E. McHugh (50).
Down: Rory Burns; Aaron McDonald, Anthony Doherty, Michael O’Hare; Sean Dornan, Ruairi Wells, Paul Gilchrist; Donal McKeever, Donal McCarthy; Conal Gallagher, Sean McGonigle, Ronan McAldinden; Donnach McAleenan, Conor McGraddy, Jack Haughey.
Subs: Packie O’Hagan for S.McGonigle (25); Matthew Stratton for D. McCarthy (29);Cathal Foy for P. Gilchrist (41); Damien McKeon for S.Dornan (43); Conor Doyle for D. McAleenan (48).
Referee: Stephen McKinley (Armagh).
Man of the Match
Ryan McHugh scored 1-9 and while the bulk of them came from placed balls he still made an immense contribution from his anchor role in the middle of the Donegal defence.
With Donegal leading 0-8 to 0-4 with the clock ticking on the first half and already having the look of winners about them a Ryan McHugh 20 metre free came back off the posts. One of the few blemishes on the Kilcar man’s performance! The ball fell to Colm Melaugh who was grounded for a penalty which was duly despatched by McHugh to put Donegal in seven in front at half-time.
Armagh referee Stephen McKinley had a reasonably good game from play though probably was a little over zealous with the yellow cards. And in what was not a physical game the two Down sendings off were a little on the harsh side.