Life in Division One for Donegal in 1988 was given a harsh dose of reality when Down came to Ballyshannon at the beginning of December and turned the tables on Donegal, who had beaten Meath and Kerry in the previous weeks
The Donegal Democrat report was as follows:
Party time is over for the Donegal footballers. It ended on a disappointing note for their big number of followers among an expectant 3,000 crowd at Fr. Tierney Park, Ballyshannon, on Sunday.
The facts are they played their share of the good football; they had more than enough possession and opportunities to win many games; and it could be argued that they were the better side. Yet they lost. They led for most of the hour but then conceded two heartbreaking second half goals - scores which undoubtedly helped Down to their four point victory.
While all is not lost this defeat does halt the momentum somewhat and with no competitive matches until next February and the county side in limbo, the effects of this defeat will be difficult to gauge. Will they have the ability to bounce back and prove their new found spirit and determination was not just a passing phase? Everyone will be hoping so.
Down emerged from this game deserving credit for a sterling challenge, displaying character in fighting back from seven points behind. Greg Blaney must take some of the credit too for some inspiring football, not to mention a goal early in the second half that gave his side the confidence they needed. They say Down are never as dangerous as when they are under threat and this game proved it. Defeat for them would have meant a very real threat of relegation but victory puts them on equal footing with four other sides. They were in no mood for a third successive defeat and unfortunately Donegal had no answer to this.
Donegal’s eagerness and enterprise in the first half fully justified their pre-match favourite rating. With wind advantage and all sectors getting involved they pushed the visitors into their own half during the first period. Down’s John ‘Shorty’ Treanor opened the scoring with just over a minute gone but Martin McHugh levelled matters sixty seconds later when he pointed a 65 yard free following a foul on Tommy Ryan.
The swift and clever movement which led to Donegal’s only goal four minutes into the game followed a foul on Cathal Campbell around the 21 yard line. Gary Walsh booted a magnificent shot downfield to Martin McHugh. He found Marty Carlin who hit the crossbar. Brian Murray pounced on the rebound and hammered it to the net for an opportunist but important goal.
Mark McCartin then proved he was worthy of his place when he pointed in the 16th minute following some confusion in the Donegal goalmouth. McCartin was only drafted in at the last minute to replace the injured Cathal Murray. A foul on midfielder Anthony Molloy following the kick out led to Donegal’s next point two minutes later. Martin McHugh’s quick free found Brian Murray and Tommy Ryan but their efforts were blocked. Marty Carlin scooped up the loose ball and blasted over the bar. After another two minutes Mickey Linden pointed Down’s last score of the half.
Pat Ward, who wasn’t having a particularly good game, was replaced with seven minutes left in the half by Cloughaneely’s Johnny Kelly. Ward seemed a little reluctant to get involved in the cut and thrust of the action.
Holding on to the ball too long cost Down centre-half back Colm Burns dearly as referee Egan penalised him and left the way for Martin McHugh to point over the free kick six minutes from the interval. McHugh added his third two minutes later from play, then his fourth from a ‘50’ with two minutes left in the half.
The “wee man” would be the first to admit, however, that his shooting wasn’t on song on the day. He missed several scorable chances but, perhaps, the one that will come back to haunt him most is the open goal he squandered near the end of the half. A clearance by John Connors was tapped on by Marty Carlin who found Brian Murray. He switched the play inside to McHugh who, with only the ‘keeper to beat, hit to the right and unfortunately wide.
He half-time score stood at Donegal 1-6, Down 0-4.
McHugh made some amends at the start of the second half with a point following a foul on Brian Murray. Sub Johnny Kelly added a fine effort from play in the fourth minute but this ended Donegal’s scoring until twelve minutes from time as Down switched up a gear and notched up an impressive 1-6 without reply.
Their three lethal forwards John Treanor, Brendan Mason and Mickey Linden had a point each before Greg Blaney netted a decisive goal which took the side from four points to one point behind. Two more points from John Treanor and another from Mickey Linden left them ahead and deservedly so as Donegal appeared devoid of tactics or match plan to combat the ever increasing dominance of the Mourne men.
Brian Murray reduced the deficit with a point from a free following a foul on Paddy Gavigan while Down’s Linden got on the scoresheet again, a point from play. It was too much to believe how a seven point lead could suddenly be stripped down so effectively.
Eight minutes from the end it was still anyone’s game as Seamus Carr finished off a McHugh-Murray move to leave a point between the sides but with five minutes to go disaster struck. Mason and Blaney split the Donegal defence wide open yet again and a final tap on to the unmarked Mark McCartin saw the latter collect well and blast to the Donegal net.
Donal Reid and Brendan Mason swapped points before the end but for all intents and purposes, Down had inflicted another defeat on the home side. It was the same margin as in Ballybofey in February last and, probably just as deserved in the end.
After the euphoria of the Meath and Kerry victories, it’s down to earth with a bump. Perhaps it’s just as well it happened now. We still have time to recover and learn from mistake. It does put the side under pressure but perhaps lessons learned from it could bear fruit in the second half of the league.
Donegal: Gary Walsh; John Joe Doherty, John Connors, Cathal Campbell; Donal Reid (0-1), Brian Tuohy, Martin Shovlin; Anthony Molloy, Martin Gavigan; Pat Ward, Marty Carlin (0-2), Tommy Ryan; Martin McHugh (0-5), Brian Murray (1-1), Seamus Carr (0-1). Subs., Johnny Kelly (0-1) for Pat Ward; Paddy Gavigan for Tommy Ryan (inj).
Down: Pat Donnan; DJ Kane, Barry Breen, Paul Mahon; Conor Deegan, Colm Burns, John Kelly; Ross Carr, Eamonn Burns; Kyran Smith, John Treanor (0-4), Mickey Linden (0-4); Greg Blaney (1-0), Brendan Mason (0-2), Mark McCartin (1-1). Sub., Cathal Murray for Kyran Smith.
Referee: Pat Egan (Leitrim).