A foggy Brewster Park in Janaury seemed a million miles from Croke Park in September as Donegal’s All-Ireland champions blew off the cobwebs of winter in their NI Power Dr McKenna Cup opener.
Jim McGuinness and members of the panel who had just returned from Dubai the day beforehand wore bronze reflections on a bleak night in Enniskillen and an eight-point loss.
The Donegal manager started with an entirely different XV to that who had beaten Mayo in September. Only when Dermot Molloy appeared at the start of the second half did Donegal have a man involved who made the hallowed turf that day.
McGuinness’s record as Donegal manager is exemplary for the most part but in his two years in charge, he had won just the one Dr McKenna Cup match from six. That came against University of Ulster, Jordanstown on his first day in office. With the U-21 side due to take on Tyrone in March in their Ulster championship opener, Maxi Curran was the liveliest of those on the sideline for Donegal.
At one point nearing the end of the second half, Donegal hadn’t scored in half an hour and trailed 2-12 to 0-4. Two late goals, though, put a better look on the final scoreboard.
Fermanagh, who fielded a stronger team from the off, opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Shane McGowan saw an intended pass intercepted and Paul Ward nipped possession. Ward fed his partner at full-forward, Darryl Keenan, who drove underneath Michael Boyle in the Donegal goal.
McGowan, at the other end, opened Donegal’s account with a well-taken score before Kane Connor pointed for Fermanagh, which left the score 1-1 to 0-1 for the home side. Donegal rallied for a spell with Gary McFadden scoring a brace, while Stephen Griffin was also on the mark.
Ward, with a free, was the only man from the hosts to score in this little spell of Donegal dominance.
However, it was Fermanagh who finished the half much the stronger as the fog finally began to lift. Ward, corner-back Johnny Woods, substitute Marty O’Brien and centre-fielder Shane Lyons made for a 1-6 to 0-4 interval lead.
Fermanagh pressed ahead as the second half took shape. Another substitute, Sean Quigley, pointed from a free with his first touch and then Ward was on the money again, also from a placed ball. Quigley then added a second point as the Fermanagh experience began to tell.
Whatever lingering hopes Donegal might’ve harboured of getting a result on the road disintegrated 12 minutes into the second half when the three-pronged Fermanagh forage manufactured a second goal. Tommy McElroy had options left and right as he broke through the non-too resistant yellow blanket. McElroy fed Ward, who immediately played in Thomas Corrigan for a simple goal, making it 2-9 to 0-4.
Donegal’s attacks were sporadic and they were well off the pace. Keenan scored a simple free, Ward was again accurate and James Sherry came from the bench to notch a point. Gary McFadden, with an effort that clipped the top of Chris Snow’s crossbar on the way over, scored Donegal’s first point of the second half, 21 minutes in. The Glenswilly captain added another, just moments later.
Ward, though, was having a fine game, scored his fifth of the day before Donegal, to their credit, did try and muster something of a comeback. With 10 minutes left, Adrian Hanlon got the slightest of touches ahead of Snow following a booming ball in from Luke Keaney to pull Donegal from the floor, 2-13 to 1-6 down.
Then, just two minutes later, Snow, whose uncle, Gary, played minor and U-21 football for Donegal, was beaten again when Molloy drove under him. The Naomh Conaill U-21 captain then scored a late free and although Donegal did well to make a game of it late on,
Fermanagh deservedly won. Marty McGrath and Quigley sealed the seven-point win with the last scores of the day.
Fermanagh: Chris Snow; Ryan McCluskey, Anthony McGuinness, Johnny Woods (0-1); Declan McCusker, Brian Cox, Damian Kelly; James Sherry (0-1), Shane Lyons (0-1); Tommy McElroy, Shane McCabe, Eoin Donnelly; Paul Ward (0-5, 1f), Darryl Keenan (1-1, 1f), Kane Connor (0-1). Subs: Marty O’Brien (0-1) for Kelly (17), Sean Quigley (0-3, 1f) and Tomas Corrigan (1-0) for Lyons and Connor (half-time), Marty McGrath for T Corrigan (44), Niall Bogue for Cox (62).
Donegal: Michael Boyle (Termon); Kevin McFadden (Cloughaneely), Ciaran Cannon (Letterkenny Gaels), Thomas McKinley (Naomh Colmcille); Luke Keaney (Four Masters), Shane McGowan (Bundoran, 0-1), Marty Boyle (Naomh Conaill); Ross Wherity (St Eunan’s), Packie Mailey (St Mary’s Convoy); Daniel McLaughlin (St Michael’s), Gary McFadden (Glenswilly, 0-4, 1f), Stephen Griffin (St Naul’s, 0-1, 1f); Odhran MacNiallais (Gaoth Dobhair), Adrian Hanlon (Dungloe, 1-0), William Gillespie (Naomh Colmcille). Subs: Dermot Molloy (Naomh Conaill 1-1, 1f) and Caolan Ward (St Eunan’s) for Mailey and McGarvey (half-time), Pauric Carr (Kilcar) for McKinley (60), Leon Kelly (Glenswilly) for Wherity (64).
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).