The heavy training undertaken by the Donegal minor squad in January came to the fore in Clones on Saturday as they overcame Monaghan in the Ulster Minor League semi-final.
Donegal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0-23
Monaghan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0-21
In a very entertaining encounter, there was never more than three points between the sides and the lead fluctuated back and forth.
Donegal needed a last minute burst from Aiden McLaughlin and JD Boyle to win the free which Niall O'Donnell converted to give them extra-time as the normal game ended 0-18 each.
In added time, they pushed three clear and that was enough to break the Monaghan resistance. The equaliser at the end of normal time was Niall O'Donnell's 11th point and he went on to add two more in extra-time in an exceptional individual performance.
But while they came out on top and showed great spirit to come back from behind on numerous occasions, there will be plenty to ponder on for Shaun Paul Barrett and his backroom team before the final with Tyrone next weekend. Not least will be their inability to win ball around the middle of the field for long periods, while the concession of 0-21 will also be analysed.
But they did have some strong performances also. Jason McGee was really strong in extra-time; Nathan Boyle put in a good shift; the half-back line of Aiden McLaughlin, JD Boyle and Odhran Shields all got on the scoreboard; Seaghan Ferry's only negative was the yellow and black cards picked up which saw him leave the action with eight minutes of normal time left. There was also the high reliance on Niall O'Donnell for scores albeit Eoghan McGettigan did come good in extra-time.
Monaghan got a whirlwind start with three points in two minutes, but by the 17th minute Donegal were 0-4 to 0-3 ahead, thaqnks to three O'Donnell points and one from Odhran Shields.
Jason McGee (45m free) and O'Donnell pushed Donegal ahead and while Monaghan levelled at 0-6 each, Kieran Gallagher and another O'Donnell free left Donegal 0-8 to 0-6 in front at half-time.
Monaghan sharpshooter David Garland and O'Donnell swapped points before Monaghan hit four in-a-row to edge 0-11 to 0-9 ahead six minutes into the second half. They maintained that two point advantage despite points from Eoghan McGettigan and O'Donnell before JD Boyle and O'Donnell had Donegal level on 45 minutes.
From there to the finish of normal time it was point for point with the sides level five times with the Donegal points from O'Donnell and Aiden McLaughlin. They also had a goal chance but Ciaran McGinley's effort went over off the crossbar.
In extra-time, Eoghan McGettigan, who had been replaced after picking up a yellow card late in normal time, was brought back in and it proved to be a good move as the Naomh Conaill man hit two points in three minutes and Niall O'Donnell added a third two minutes later. Fabian Beggan pulled a point back to leave it 0-21 to 0-19 at the end of the first period.
Within 20 seconds of the start of the second period, Niall O'Donnell cut through to open the gap to three again but Monaghan pulled a couple of points back to leave the minimum between them with three minutes left. Donegal were nervous in those minutes before Jason McGee landed another long range free to settle the issue.
Monaghan: Thomas Marron; Frank Connolly, Owen Quinn, Josh Walsh; Ciaran Burns, Ryan Mahon, Fergal Hanratty (0-2); Padraig Finnan, Colm Lennon (0-1); Ryan O’Connor (0-1), James Wilson, Padraig McMahon; David Garland (0-11, 5f), Michael Bannigan (0-4, 2f), Tyler O’Hanlon (0-1). Subs: Fabian Beggan (0-1) for Lennon (10), Conor Doyle for Burns (26), Aaron Courtney for Mahon (40), Shane McMahon for O’Hanlon (43), Jack Gormley for Doyle (46 black card), Sean Burns for Quinn (58), Quinn and McMahon for Beggan and S Burns (half-time, extra-time), S Burns for Connolly (black card 78), C Burns for McMahon (80).
Donegal: Gavin Mulreany; Seaghan Ferry, Aaron McCrea, Mark Curran; Aidan McLaughlin (0-1), JD Boyle (0-1), Odhran Shields (0-1); Jason McGee (0-2, 2f), Kieran Gallagher (0-1); Ciaran McGinley (0-1), Odhrán Ferry, Nathan Boyle; Brian O’Donnell, Niall O’Donnell (0-13, 8f), Eoghan McGettigan (0-3). Sub: Stephen Carr for McGinley (56), Jack Flannery for McGettigan (59). For extra-time: Eoghan McGettigan (replaced red carded S Ferry); Michael Mulhern for Curran (76), Gary Molloy for Flannery (78)
Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan).
Neilly Byrne happy enough
"We would be happy enough to a certain degree that we got through and we're in an Ulster final. But there are a lot of things to work on, from our kick-outs and the way we play.
"And maybe when you give away 18 points, it was 18 points each at full-time, and that is far too much to give away in any game. That has to be looked at as well," said mentor, Neilly Byrne, who agreed that some of the long range shooting by Monaghan was excellent.
"They are a very, very good team, but then we would know a lot of them from coming through the schools. Some of their kicking was exceptional, from 40-45 yards out which is very hard to put pressure on.
"There a lot of things to work on, but the one thing I would say about them (Donegal), they worked hard. They have worked hard since they came in at the beginning of January and they deserve to be in the final because of the hard work they put in.
"Hopefully we can push on from here. It is only a short step now to the championship and there is a big, big year ahead," said Byrne, who agreed that the side needed a better spread of scores.
"Overall, I'm quite happy and it's hard to keep me happy," said a smiling Byrne.