Lee Henderson top scored for Donegal with ten points
Donegal’s long lingering fight to retain their Christy Ring Championship status was finally dashed by London in St Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen on Saturday.
London ……… 2-18
The winning margin may have been rough justice on an understrength Donegal, who were in this tie up to the three quarter mark. London polished off the win and salvation with four points in the closing five minutes when Donegal were out on their feet and down to 13 men.
Donegal’s corner-back Mark Callaghan and centre-half-forward Ciaran Mathewson received their marching orders in the second half. Callaghan was the first to face the long walk early in the final quarter for a second yellow card offence and he was joined on the bench in the closing minutes by Mathewson after being shown a red card for a late pull.
Donegal were in this contest for 50 minutes but without the likes of leading scorer Declan Coulter and Christopher and Ronan McDermott, manager Mickey McCann simply had to delve too far down the subs bench to find replacements when re-enforcements were required in the closing minutes.
Christopher and Ronan McDermott, who commute from London for games, were absent due to work commitments.
Donegal were in this game and in a good position at half-time as they went in on level terms, 1-8 to 2-5 after being the better side for most of the opening half and actually led by six points at one stage in the half.
London got off to a flying start and caught Donegal cold with full-forward Brendan McGarry netting the first of London’s two goals inside 20 seconds.
But the Donegal response was almost instant as they posted 1-2 without reply to lead by two points after a lively opening eight minutes.
Ciaran Mathewson converted from the penalty spot after Lee Henderson was dragged down for the goal and Henderson and Mathewson raised the early white flags.
Aaron Sheehan from a '65' after Paul Burns had saved well to deny Colin Nelson a second London goal pulled made it a one point game once again on 13 minutes.
But Donegal were in no mood to roll over and with Conor Parke, Jack O’Loughlin and Sean McVeigh playing out of their skin in defence and with Danny Cullen and Joe Boyle winning the battle in the middle of the field Donegal dominated most of the opening 20 minutes.
And by the 25 minute mark they had opened up a six point lead thanks to three long range strikes from Henderson and one each from Joe Boyle and Mathewson, Donegal led 1-7 to 1-1.
But a second London goal first-timed to the net by Shane Lawless after Paul Burns came for a high ball into the goalmouth but failed to make a good connection and the broken ball fell to Lawless who made no mistake from ten metres.
The goal resurrected the Exiles and they went on to finish the half with a flourish and posted four points to Donegal’s one in the closing minutes with David Nolan tying up the game from a '65' deep in injury time.
London shaded the early exchanges on the resumption and though playing into a stiff breeze were one up 2-8 to 1-10 by the 45 minute mark. Mathewson and Henderson scored the Donegal points.
Donegal were still doing well defensively; their problems lay further up the field where the absence of the experienced duo of Declan Coulter and Ronan McDermott was sorely missed.
London began to get on top in midfield and driven on by Colin Nelson, Killian Burke, Cormac Thornton they tagged on five points without response to open up a six point advantage. And while Donegal through P J McCarron and Henderson (3) responded to trim the lead back to three again, 2-14 to 1-14, London closed out the game in injury with late stikes from Nolan (2) and one each from Lawless and Nelson.
This was a first win in either league or championship for London, the beaten Christy Ring finalists last year.
Donegal will now play back down the Nicky Rackard Cup next season and after losing their three group games and the play-off for a team in transition the Nicky Rackard Championship is probably their level.
DONEGAL: Paul Burns; Mark Callaghan, Niall Cleary, Conor Parke; Jack, O'Loughlin, Sean McVeigh, Stephen Gillespie; Joe Boyle (0-1), Danny Cullen; Colm Flood, Ciaran Finn, Lee Henderson (0-10, 7f, 1'65); Dylan Duffy, Gavin Browne, Ciaran Mathewson (1-2, 1-0 penalty). Subs: P J McCarron (0-1) for C Finn 22; Conor O'Grady for C Flood 41; Ryan Hilferty for D Duffy 48; Caolan McDermott for N Cleary 57.
LONDON: Padraig Buckley; Christopher McAlinden, Padraig Muldoon, Fergal Collins; Jesse Kennedy, Colin Nelson (0-4), Lee Murphy; Killian Burke, Cormac Thornton (0-2); Stephen Lohan (0-1), Mark Dwyer, Shane Lawless (1-2); David Nolan (0-6, 2f,1’65), Brendan McGarry (1-1), Aaron Sheehan (0-2, 2f). Subs: Oisin Royson for J Kennedy, Daniel McGlynn for A Sheehan, Ciaran McSweeney for F Collins.
REFEREE: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath)