History was made in Clones on Sunday on many fronts.
Report: Peter Campbell
For the first time Donegal retained their Ulster title.
Manager Jim McGuinness remains unbeaten as a manager in the Ulster championship. So does Patrick McBrearty as a player.
Donegal become the first team to win the championship from the preliminary round on two occasions.
The final scoreline of 2-18 is Donegal’s best ever return in an Ulster final. Eleven Donegal players got on the scoresheet!
It was a magnificent day and the second half performance which yielded a tally of 1-13 is certainly the best ever 35 minutes from Donegal in any championship game.
After much speculation prior to the game, both David Walsh and Neil McGee took their place in the line-out but Eamonn McGee missed out with Declan Walsh taking his place in the last line of defence.
There was a nervousness in the large band of Donegal supporters in the crowd of 34,696 at half-time as they took a one point lead to the dressing room. They hadn’t performed anywhere near their true worth in the opening half and in all honesty were flattered to be a point ahead.
Down had created many openings in the first half and but for some very poor shooting which included seven wides, the Mourne men would have been at least two or three points ahead at the break.
But once Donegal got the wind at their backs, they threw off their inhibitions and they tore into Down, whose heads had gone down long before the end when Colm McFadden finished things off with a rare right footed point.
For long periods of the opening half, the contest was just a case of cat and mouse. For the opening 23 minutes only four points were shared. Ryan Bradley had opened Donegal’s account; Liam Doyle responded while Patrick McBrearty added a second for Donegal and Donal O’Hare drove over from close range.
Down were threatening the Donegal goal with their direct running, but it was Donegal who had the best goal chance on 22 minutes when McBrearty and McFadden sent Anthony Thompson into space, but he rushed his shot and blazed wide.
Down edged two clear through Doyle and O’Hare frees before Donegal’s go-to man for much of this game, Ryan Bradley intervened again, winning a Durcan kick-out and finding Leo McLoone in space and the Naomh Conaill man showed composure to slide the ball to the net.
Ambrose Rodgers, outstanding for the Mourne men in the opening half, levelled and Liam Doyle edged them ahead. But in a frantic last few minutes to the half Declan Walsh came forward on two occasions and hit points either side of a David Walsh score, while Kevin McKernan had one for Down.
After witnessing five points in the opening 23 minutes, the supporters witnessed a thrilling final seven minutes to the half which Donegal won 1-3 to 0-4.
Half-time: Donegal 1-5, Down 0-7.
Conor Laverty, who was given little room to shine by Paddy McGrath, levelled matters within 45 seconds of the restart, but in a three minute period points from Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy and Mark McHugh opened a significant gap of three points.
Liam Doyle and Martin McElhinney exchanged points before Eoin McCartan reduced the margin to two with 48 minutes gone.
Then came the significant scores of the half on 49 and 50 minutes. Firstly an interception in the Donegal defence saw Frank McGlynn on a forward run and he found Mark McHugh thundering through to score. McGlynn took a knock in delivering the pass and was still up front when the ball came back from the kick-out to Michael Murphy and he slipped the ball to the Glenfin man, who made no mistake from 20m to seal the game for Donegal - 2-10 to 0-10. Game over!
Donegal kicked on as Down’s heads began to drop and Colm McFadden put on a scoring display in the final, hitting five points while Ryan Bradley, Daniel McLaughlin and Martin McElhinney also got their names on the scoresheet.
Down added a few points and Daniel Hughes drew a great save from Paul Durcan on 68 minutes, but there was only token resistance from the men in red and black in that final quarter.
Donegal were simply magnificent. Again it was a real team effort and the joy at the final whistle in retaining the title was just as good as it was a year earlier when the gap from 1992 had been bridged.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Declan Walsh (0-2); Frank McGlynn (1-0), Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson; Ryan Bradley (0-2), Rory Kavanagh; David Walsh, (0-1), Leo McLoone (1-0), Mark McHugh (0-2); Patrick McBrearty (0-1), Michael Murphy (0-1), Colm McFadden (0-6, 3f). Subs., Martin McElhinney (0-2) for David Walsh ht; Christy Toye for McLooone 43; Daniel McLaughlin (0-1) for Bradley 58.
Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Brendan McArdle, Darren O’Hagan; Aidan Carr, Dan Gordon, Aiden Branagan (0-1); Ambrose Rodgers (0-1), Kevin McKernan (0-1); Donal O’Hare (0-2,1f), Mark Poland, Liam Doyle (0-4,2f); Brendan Coulter, Kalum King, Conor Laverty (0-1). Subs., Eoin McCartan for Coulter ht; Conor Maginn (0-1) for A Carr 42; Danny Hughes for O’Hare 48; Benny Coulter for McKernan 54.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
Man of the match
It is a really tough decision with three Donegal players vying for the award - Ryan Bradley, Frank McGlynn and Mark McHugh. All three were magnificent in different ways in this contest, but when Donegal really needed leadership it was Bradley who stepped up to the mark and he just edges the award. Apart from scoring the goal, McGlynn was involved in numerous Donegal scores, while McHugh gave a faultless display and also hit two points.
The Leo McLoone goal was timely in the opening half with Bradley hugely involved, while the point from Mark McHugh followed by McGlynn’s goal on 50 minutes sealed the game in Donegal’s favour.
Joe McQuillan had his hands full in the opening 20 minutes as both sides got to know each other. He seemed unsighted and missed a foul on Karl Lacey and Benny Coulter could be deemed lucky to have stayed on the field after a clash with Mark McHugh. But overall, he tried to keep play flowing. In all he issued six yellow cards, three to each side.
Goals Pts Wides Frees 45s
Donegal 1 5 3 7 0
Down 0 7 7 16 0
Donegal 1 13 7 5 0
Down 0 5 5 5 2
Donegal 2 18 12 10 0
Down 0 13 21 12 2