Donegal set their targets a notch higher as they defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park on Sunday.
By far the better side, Donegal gave their supporters a difficult last few minutes as they allowed Kerry back into the game after leading by six points with six minutes left.
A goal from Kieran Donaghy and points from Paul Galvin had cut that lead to the minimum by the 68th minute but they showed resolve and recovered their composure for Karl Lacey to drive forward and point to the relief of the large Donegal contingent in the 56,191 crowd.
It was a real roller coaster ending, almost similar to the quarter-final last year when it took extra time and a magnificent Kevin Cassidy point to get over Kildare.
But this win eclipses that, mainly because of the opposition. It was a first ever championship meeting between the counties and the Kingdom never got their noses in front.
In the end (despite the late goal concession) it was the water tight Donegal defence that made the difference with the McGees having a great afternoon in a last line and Paddy McGrath was immense. Eamonn McGee was handed the task of curbing Kieran Donaghy and apart from the late palmed goal, the Gaoth Dobhair man stood tall.
Neil McGee hardly gave Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper a sniff and Paddy McGrath was like a rock, in the end curbing the threat of Darran O’Sullivan, at times pushing him back to the middle of the field, such was the ferocity of his tackling.
The half-back line were equally tight and Mark McHugh did his usual covering role to the highest quality.
The introduction of Neil Gallagher at half-time gave Donegal a platform for the first time at midfield while Rory Kavanagh, Leo McLoone and Patrick McBrearty covered acres of Croke Park to provide the on-form Colm McFadden with plenty of opportunities.
There were so many positives as well as a few mistakes, but given the greasy conditions, that was always going to be case.
Donegal lined out with Eamonn McGee and Martin McElhinney in the starting lineout instead of David and Declan Walsh and they got the perfect start with Colm McFadden pointing inside two minutes.
Fro there to half-time it was a battle of wits with Donegal taking everything that Kerry could throw at them. While Colm Cooper levelled on four minutes, Donegal got a real fillip two minutes later when a Colm McFadden sideline kick dropped into the Kerry goal and with Michael Murphy challenging, the ball eluded everyone and ended in the net. A minute later Leo McLoone did really well to put Michael Murphy in for a point and Donegal led by 1-2 to 0-1.
With Eamonn McGee giving Kieran Donaghy little room, Kerry were finding it hard to break the Donegal defence, but they did get in for the next three points from Declan O’Sullivan, a Bryan Sheehan 13m free and a good point from James O’Donoghue to cut the leeway to the minimum by the 18th minute.
Donegal were retreating into a defensive shell but thanks to a Leo McLoone intercept Colm McFadden had their first score in 16 minutes.
The only goal chance that Kerry created came in the final minutes of the half when Martin McElhinney overcarried on the attack and Kerry broke quickly for Colm Cooper to combine with Donaghy and with another player in support he elected to take his point.
But before the break Ryan Bradley did very well to win a free and Colm McFadden lofted another great score from fully 46m and Michael Murphy should have had another deep in added time but his 35m free tailed wide.
Half-time: Donegal 1-4, Kerry 0-5.
Twice Kerry got within a point early in the second half through Anthony Maher and a Cooper free, while Leo McLoone had a good point for Donegal.
Donegal’s workrate and a good break from Rory Kavanagh yielded two pointed frees from Michael Murphy while Kerry replaced Bryan Sheehan and Declan O’Sullivan.
Almost immediately they missed a ‘45’ which Sheehan would surely have pointed and although Colm Cooper pointed a free to reduce the margin to three in the 50th minute, Donegal had their best period in the next 14 minutes as they tagged on four points to go six clear in the 64th minute.
Colm McFadden got the first two from play and Christy Toye, only on the field seconds, fired over the third, while another substitute David Walsh won the free for McFadden to push Donegal 1-11 to 0-8 clear.
It seemed as if things were going so well and then Kieran Donaghy pounced to palm to the net, even though it could have been ruled illegal as he had least one foot in the ‘square’ when the ball was played in.
Paul Galvin, who was Kerry’s best player in the second half, pointed and Anthony Maher reduced the margin to the minimum. Indeed Kerry substitute Patrick Curtin had a good chance to level matters before Rory Kavanagh won the kick-out and sent Karl Lacey racing clear to fire over the insurance point and put Donegal into the All-Ireland semi-final for the second year in-a-row.
Cork await them there after disposing of Kildare in clinical fashion in the curtain raiser on Sunday to set up another big match for Jim McGuinness and his men on Sunday, 26th August.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamonn McGee; Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey (0-1), Anthony Thompson; Martin McElhinney, Rory Kavanagh; Ryan Bradley, Leo McLoone (0-1), Mark McHugh; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy (0-3,2f), Colm McFadden (1-6, 1-0sideline, 2f). Subs., Neil Gallagher for McElhinney ht; David Walsh for Bradley 59; Christy Toye (0-1) for McLoone 60; Daniel McLaughlin for McBrearty 71.
Kerry: Brendan Kealy; Mark O Se, Aidan O’Mahony, Shane Enright; Tomas O Se, Eoin Brosnan, Killian Young; Anthony Maher (0-2), Bryan Sheehan (0-1,f); Paul Galvin (0-1), Declan O’Sullivan (0-1), Donnchadh Walsh; James O’Donoghue (0-1), Colm Cooper (0-4,2f), Kieran Donaghy (1-0). Subs., Brian Maguire for Brosnan 24; Darran O’Sullivan for Young 32; Johnny Buckley for Sheehan, Kieran O’Leary for Declan O’Sullivan, both 45; Patrick Curtin for O’Donoghue 56.
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)
Man of the match
The award has to go to Colm McFadden, who hit a magnificent 1-6 and caused Marc O Se all kinds of problems. The McGees, Paddy McGrath, Mark McHugh and Rory Kavanagh also played well while Paul Galvin did most to rescue Kerry in the last quarter.
The purple patch for Donegal at the start of the final quarter when they hit four unanswered points was the big turning point. Neil Gallagher gave them a foothold at midfield and they turned the screw on Kerry from the 53rd to 64th minute.
Donegal supporters were not that happy with Marty Duffy in the opening half when he seemed to give Kerry the easier frees and Colm McFadden got a raw deal late in the half when he was tripped and a free given against him. However, overall Duffy had a reasonable game and there was one Donegal free (pointed by Michael Murphy) in the second half which was harsh on Kerry.
Goals Pts Frees Wides 45s
Donegal 1 4 10 4 0
Kerry 0 5 15 5 0
Donegal 0 8 6 2 0
Kerry 1 5 9 5 1
Donegal 1 12 16 6 0
Kerry 1 10 24 10 1