It was Back to the Future for Donegal in Croke Park on Saturday night as they reverted to a packed defence, but it was not good enough against an average Dublin side.
Dublin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1-10
Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0-7
Dublin recorded their sixth win out of six as Donegal lost their way in the final quarter without their leader, Michael Murphy.
The Donegal skipper was shown a second yellow card on 50 minutes after he pulled on a loose ball with a Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny trying to win possession. The decision to issue a second yellow card came after Dublin caused a small melee following the incident. Murphy had been very harshly yellow carded after five minutes when he stood his ground as a Dublin player ran into him. The second yellow was a significant moment in the game and one from which Donegal did not recover. Dublin led by a point at that stage, 0-7 to 0-6 and Donegal would add just one more point in the 61st minute.
Dublin were also reduced to 14 following the melee with James McCarthy also seeing yellow for a second time, but subsequent TV images of McCarthy making contact with the eye area of Martin McElhinney may be revisited by the authorities.
There was a major change in the Donegal tactics for the game as it was obvious from very early that they were using sometimes 14 behind the ball. The expected inclusion of Neil McGee did not materialise and there were debuts for goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley and defender Kieran Gillespie.
It almost started perfectly for Donegal as Odhran MacNiallais found Eoin McHugh with a great ball over the top. With the ‘keeper advancing, McHugh flicked the ball goalwards but ‘keeper Michael Savage did really well to get back and scoop the ball away off the line.
Michael Murphy burst through to put Donegal ahead on 11 minutes but it was mainly a defensive battle as Cormac Costello (free), Kevin McManamon with his left and Costello with a second free had Dublin 3-1 ahead on 19 minutes. The latter point came after Bernard Brogan cut through to find Kevin McManamon, but his effort was blocked by Kieran Gillespie, but the referee brought the play back for a foul on Brogan.
The Donegal goal had a scare a minute later as Cormac Costello broke through but blazed wide and by the 28th minute Donegal were back on terms. After a patient build-up involving Hugh McFadden and Rory Kavanagh, Eamon McGee popped up inside the 20m line to fire over a point - a rare score for the Gaoth Dobhair man. Remember the goal he scored against Mayo in Castlebar in 2008!
Rory Kavanagh levelled before Kevin McManamon fired over from 40m. Michael Murphy saw a sideline come back off the upright before good work by Eoin McHugh ended with Patrick McBrearty levelling matters at 0-4 each on 33 minutes.
In the final minute of the half the standout Dublin player, McManamon, did the approach work for Ciaran Kilkenny to point and leave it Dublin 0-5, Donegal 0-4 at half-time.
Donegal were back in front within four minutes of the restart. Patrick McBrearty pointed a free won by Ryan McHugh, which was a lucky call and Odhran MacNiallais pointed after McBrearty made the opening.
But they were to score just one point in the 35 minutes played thereafter, which was never going to be good enough.
Patrick McBrearty saw a free come back off the ‘keeper’s hands and the crossbar before Dean Rock levelled on 44 minutes.
Paddy Andrews edged Dublin ahead after a McBrearty effort for a point was blocked, and then came the Murphy red card and Donegal hopes faded.
Two quick points from Brian Fenton (who could have went for goal) and Cormac Costello opened the gap to three.
Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney combined to set up Patrick McBrearty for Donegal’s final point on 61 minutes, but then a comedy of errors in front of the Donegal goal with both sides losing possession ended with McManamon firing over on 64 minutes.
Two minutes later the final nail was put in the Donegal coffin when a Mark McHugh pass went astray and McManamon pounced to send Philly McMahon through to slide the ball to the net.
There was no way back for Donegal as Dublin decided to play ‘keep ball’ in the final minutes and Donegal just didn’t have the energy to take it off them.
It all comes down to the game with Monaghan in Castleblaney on Sunday next with Donegal needing a win to reach the semi-final.
Dublin: Michael Savage; Philly McMahon (1-0), Jonny Cooper, David Byrne; James McCarthy, Eric Lowndes, John Small; Brian Fenton (0-1), Denis Bastick; Paul Flynn, Paddy Andrews (0-1), Ciaran Kilkenny (0-1); Cormac Costello (0-3,2f), Kevin McManamon (0-3), Bernard Brogan. Subs., Dean Rock (0-1) for Brogan 40; Emmet O Conghaile for Bastick 44; Shane B Carthy for Lowndes; Michael Fitzsimons for Small, both 53; Tomas Brady for Costello 58; Darren Daly for McManamon 69
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Eamon McGee (0-1), Kieran Gillespie; Ryan McHugh, Anthony Thompson, Martin O’Reilly; Michael Murphy (0-1), Odhran MacNiallais (0-1); Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Karl Lacey; Eoin McHugh; Hugh McFadden, Leo McLoone, Patrick McBrearty (0-3,1f). Subs., Mark McHugh for McGrath 40; Martin McElhinney for McLoone 44; Eoghan Ban Gallagher for Thompson; Christy Toye for H McFadden both 58; Colm McFadden for Lacey 65; Michael Carroll for Kavanagh 73.
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)