Donegal minors were given a real test before they reached the Ulster final in the proverbial game of two halves on Saturday evening.
Donegal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-15
Monaghan . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-12
In a very entertaining Ulster Minor Championship semi-final, the Tirconaill boys saw off off a gritty Monaghan side, who reduced an eight point margin to two in the second half.
Donegal led by 2-7 to 0-5 at the break after their midfield pairing of Jason McGee and especially Kieran Gallagher dominated the opening half. But Monaghan thundered back into the game in the second half and on three occasions the margin was down to two points before Donegal pulled away, hitting the final four points of the game.
But it will be a game that will be remembered as a wonderful contest, which had everything - great long range points, some messy goals and a Donegal side giving everything to the cause.
When the sides met in the league, they shared 44 points but had no goals. This time around it was different with both sides carving many openings.
Indeed, Donegal should have had a goal inside two minutes when Peadar Mogan broke through before Shane McGrath set up JD Boyle, but he blasted over.
James Wilson levelled for Monaghan but Donegal were on top. Odhran Shiels edged them ahead before Kieran Gallagher won a kick-out, fed Niall O'Donnell and he found Jason McGee on the run and the Cloughaneely man's long stride had him clear and he blasted to the net from 20 yards. on six minutes. Two minutes later Eoghan McGettigan was in on goal again but shot poorly, but Niall O'Donnell pointed the rebound.
Michael Bannigan hit two points in reply and the margin remained at three points until the 25th minute when Donegal struck for their second goal. A '45' from Jason McGee was magnificently fielded by Kieran Gallagher but before he got back to earth, he was hauled down for a penalty. Eoghan McGettigan's spot kick was saved, but the rebound fell kindly and he was able to slide home
The impressive Aidan McLaughlin and Shane McGrath added points to leave Donegal ahead by 2-7 to 0-5 at half-time and seemingly on their way.
But Monaghan were rejuvenated in the second half hitting 1-3 inside seven minutes, the goal from Robbie McAlister. Donegal needed a response and it was joint captains Niall O'Donnell and Jason McGee who rose to the occasion, both pointing.
It seemed as Donegal had fully recovered on 41 minutes when JD Boyle and Niall O'Donnell combined to set up Odhran McFadden-Ferry to find the Monaghan net and a six point lead, but two minutes later Monaghan had a goal also. Michael Bannigan's shot came back off a post and after the ball ping-ponged around in front of the goal, Conor Leonard got the touch.
Twice more Monaghan reduced the margin to two points and it made for a very tense final ten minutes.
But when man of the match Kieran Gallagher hit a glorious point on 57 minutes, Donegal then shut out the game with points from Eoghan McGettigan, Niall O'Donnell and substitute Gary Molloy.
Apart from the really excellent Gallagher, Jason McGee, Mark Curran, Aidan McLaughlin, Niall O'Donnell and Odhran McFadden-Ferry were very good for Donegal, on a day that manager Shaun Paul Barrett got a performance from every single player on the team. There was so much to admire about the team, from 'keeper Gavin Mulreany, who was flawless, to the leadership of Niall O'Donnell, who, while not having his usual influence on the scoring, still was in the right place on most occasions to lift his side - the hallmark of a real team player.
Donegal will now meet Derry in the Ulster final on Sunday, 17th July in Clones.
Donegal: Gavin Mulreany; Seaghan Ferry, Aaron McCrea, Mark Curran; Odhran Shiels (0-1), JD Boyle (0-1), Aidan McLaughlin (0-2); Jason McGee (1-2), Kieran Gallagher (0-1); Nathan Boyle, Niall O'Donnell (0-4,3f), Odhran McFadden-Ferry (1-0); Peadar Mogan, Eoghan McGettigan (1-2,1f), Shane McGrath (0-1). Subs., Brian O'Donnell for Mogan, bcard 40; Gary Molloy (0-1) for JD Boyle 53; Stephen Carr fror McFadden-Ferry 61; Ryan Connors for K Gallagher 62.
Monaghan: Jack Kirk; Josh Walsh, Colm Lennon, Fabian Beggan; Padraig McMahon, Ryan Mohan, Fergal Hanratty; Conor Leonard (1-0), Padraig Finnan; Ryan O'Connor (0-1), James Wilson (0-3), Robbie McAlister (1-2); David Garland (0-4,3f), Michael Bannigan (0-2,1f), Frank Connolly. Subs., Karl McMenamin for Beggan ht; Aaron Courtney for McAlister 51; Darragh Hughes for Wilson 61.
Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)