Donegal’s victory over Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final was the the stuff of dreams. In a fairytale finish Kevin Cassidy swung over the winner from fully 50m to send Donegal to their seventh ever All-Ireland semi-final.
In a game that included every emotion that ever existed, Donegal had to go the depths of their reserves to finally prevail, coming from three points down on two occasions in extra-time to finally prevail with Cassidy’s winner.
Donegal were two points down after a forgettable first half, but then came storming back in the second half and led by three points after Christy Toye found the net with his first touch just 20 seconds after coming in.
It looked as if Donegal would then hold on for victory, but a few bad wides and an upright depriving Anthony Thompson allowed Kildare the chance to hit back and they got level with the lack attack of the game.
In extra-time Kildare always looked the more likely, but Donegal just refused to die and they eventually wore the Lilywhites down before Toye drew them level and Cassidy clinched victory.
There were so many stories built around the game apart from Kevin Cassidy’s winner. The return of Christy Toye to a Donegal side and he ended up as the side’s top scorer; the tackling of Neil McGee; the workrate of Karl Lacey.
But it was the great resolve which Jim McGuinness has built into this group of players that was the difference between the sides.
Donegal had to line out without Michael Murphy after he cried off due to a hamstring injury just prior to the throw-in, having taken part in the pre-match parade. David Walsh replaced the full-forward.
Murphy’s absence may not have been felt in the first ten minutes, but it gradually became a major factor as Donegal found it difficult to win anything from a dominant Kildare full-back line.
Donegal did very well in the opening quarter creating quite a few openings, but it was Kildare who got on the scoreboard first.
A Johnny Doyle free was going wide but was kept in and the ball was worked back to Eoghan O’Flaherty to hook over.
Donegal responded well with Patrick McBrearty starting and finishing their first score. McBrearty found Kevin Cassidy and the Gaoth Dobhair man did great work to force his way through and then find McBrearty to hook over from inside the 13m line on six minutes.
Donegal went ahead on nine minutes when McBrearty was involved again before Rory Kavanagh fired over from distance.
But then Kildare took firm grip on the game. While they had difficulty breaking the Donegal defence, they were back level on 11 minutes with an O’Flaherty free.
Colm McFadden almost put David Walsh in for a goal but Kildare went ahead on 20 minutes with Padraig O’Neill finding the range from 45m.
A untypical Neil McGee error saw O’Flaherty push Kildare two clear a minute later. It was McGee’s only slip in an opening half when he kept very close tabs on Tomas O’Connor.
Donegal had the best goal chance of the half on 25 mnutes when David Walsh with a great flick, put Mark McHugh through but with only ‘keeper Shane Connolly to beat, his low effort was saved by the Kildare ‘keeper and a great chance was gone.
Donegal brought in Michael Murphy (who was said to be suffering from a hamstring strain) and Eamonn McGee on 26 minutes but Kildare went three clear as half-time approached, Eamonn Callaghan punishing a poor kick out from Paul Durcan.
But wity virtually the last attack of the half on 38 minutes the Donegal men reduced the margin to two when a Michael Hegarty effort for a point was kept in play by Mark McHugh and he found the range.
Half-time: Donegal 0-3, Kildare 0-5.
The second half was a completely different and compelling affair as Donegal finally found the freedom to express themselves. They went three behind from an O’Flaherty free on 38 minutes. They could have been further behind as a Johnny Doyle free came back off an upright and Tomas O’Connor finished to the net but it was disallowed, probably harshly, for a square ball. But Donegal then rose to the occasion with points from Michael Murphy, Ryan Bradley and Dermot Molloy to draw level.
Alan Smith put Kildare back ahead on 48 minutes but a great effort from Kevin Cassidy levelled and Christy Toye, just on the field seconds, got on the end of a great run from Frank McGlynn to fire to the Kildare net.
Donegal had chances to stretch the lead with Dermot Molloy twice just off target and Anthony Thompson was denied by a post before Kildare showed their fighting qualities.
Eoghan O’Flaherty hit a free from near the sideline and James Kavanagh hit an outrageous point with his left with two minutes left.
But it seemed as if Donegal had done enough as they defended like demons, but with virtually the last play of normal time Kildare turned the ball over twice inside the Donegal 13mn line and drew a foul for O’Flaherty to send the game to extra time.
Kildare went three points clear during the first period of extra-time with Ronan Sweeney from play, Gary Whyte from a free and Alan Smith from play but Karl Lacey had the final point of the first period to leave just two in it.
It looked gone for Donegal when Emmet Bolton put Kildare three ahead but the Tirconaill men just wouldn’t settle for defeat. Michael Murphy pulled two back. Kevin Cassidy had a chance but saw his effort wide but then Christy Toye nailed one and in the dying seconds Kevin Cassidy hit a point that was worthy of winning such a game.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Kevin Cassidy (0-2); Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh (0-1); Mark McHugh (0-1), Michael Hegarty, Ryan Bradley (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-1), David Walsh, Colm McFadden. Subs., Michael Murphy (0-3,1f) for McBrearty; Eamonn McGee for McGrath, both 26; Martin McElhinney for Gallagher ht; Dermot Molloy (0-1) for Hegarty 41; Christy Toye (1-1) for McFadden 57. Extra-time: Kevin Rafferty for McElhinney; Colm McFadden for D Molloy; N Gallagher for Rafferty 9, D Molloy for McFadden 10; Patrick McBrearty for Bradley 17
Kildare: Shane Connolly; Aindriu McLochlainn, Michael Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Brian Flanagan, Morgan O’Flaherty, Emmett Bolton (0-1); John Doyle, Daryl Flynn; Padraig O’Neill (0-1), Eoghan O’Flaherty (0-6,4f), Eamonn Callaghan (0-1); Robert Kelly, Tomas O’Connor, James Kavanagh (0-1). Subs., Alan Smith (0-2) for O’Connor 41; Ronan Sweeney (0-1) for Flanagan 62; Mikey Conway for O’Neill 65. Extra-time: Gary White (0-1,f) for J Doyle; Fionn Dowling for Kavanagh 4; John Doyle for O’Flaherty 7; Brian Flanagan for Kelly 15
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)
Man of the match
Neil McGee and Karl Lacey were simply superb and just can’t be separated for the award. If both don’t get All-Stars this year, then there is something wrong with the system. Both have been superb in all five games this year.
You just couldn’t settle on one. Christy Toye’s goal. Then his point with extra-time almost up to level matters, probably his only two touches in the game. What a comeback for the man who played his last game over two years ago against Clare when he ruptured his Achilles. But then what about Cassidy’s clincher.
Meath official David Coldrick added to the occasion. He only blew when he had to and both sides would have little complaint.