Michael Murphy saw red as 14-man Donegal inflicted a first Allianz League Division One defeat on Cork in Ballyshannon on Sunday.
With Rory Gallagher’s side having grappled control of the contest after an explosive third quarter with five points on the spin, the Donegal skipper was sent off for a second yellow card after toppling Eoin Cadogan.
Referee Joe McQuillan’s decision to send Murphy off marked a distinct turning point and offered Cork – the only side in the top flight with a 100 per cent record after two fixtures – an opportunity to maintain their unbeaten run.
Brian Cuthbert’s team had the advantage of a huge gale in the opening periodbut failed to establish a lead at the break as the half ended at 0-5 to 0-5.
Marty O’Reilly had a fine game for Donegal, who despite facing the elements always have the look of a team more comfortable when playing ball in hand as Neil Gallagher and Christy Toye established a midfield foothold.
Colm O’Neill, who lucklessly suffered the third of his cruciate injuries the last time the sides met in 2013, went into the match with 2-11 scored in Cork’s wins over Dublin and Monaghan and stroked over two early frees.
Those victories for Cork, who hit the ground running early last year only to wither in summer, might’ve been of the pinch of salt variety but were impressive nonetheless.
O’Neill was joined on the scoresheet by Kevin O’Driscoll, Mark Collins and Donncha O’Connor as Toye and a free from Murphy made up Donegal’s interval total.
This year’s Division One fixtures see Cork make four separate trips to Ulster and Cuthbert’s side have implemented a more northern style of late.
Swamping men back, they made decent enough offensive inroads in the first half but that tactic was tested to the limit as Donegal began the second with the wind bellowing in their sails.
Donegal have long since been famed for their exploits after the break and in that ‘championship quarter’ ripped through Cork to establish a 0-10 to 0-5 cushion and by then the question wasn’t of ‘how’ but more of ‘how many?’
Patrick McBrearty’s influence on the contest grew as he kicked two early points and as Cork were still finding their bearings O’Reilly popped over his fourth from play on the day.
Murphy scored two monster frees – one from 55 metres and another from the sideline outside of the 45 - and it was queried why Cork were trying to take on Donegal at their own game.
With the pitch in Ballyshannon traditionally heavy and rain having fallen in the north-west on Saturday, Donegal’s decision to make hay when the sun was shining was perhaps an intelligent one.
After all, the bulk of Rory Gallagher’s panel had spent part of their three-week break since the 2-10 to 0-11 loss to Dublinm on a team holiday in Dubai and their legs might’ve been expected to have gotten slower in the closing stages.
As it was, Murphy’s dismissal exacerbated that idea and as Donegal had to change tact to deal with a Cork team that threw all they could at them in the closing stages.
There was an element of fortune about the goal that brought Cork into the thick of the action on 58 minutes.
Tomás Clancy might well have been shooting for a point but the unpredictability of the wind held the shot in the air and Brian Hurley darted along the line and squared for Clancy to slap past Paul Durcan for 0-11 to 1-6.
Gallagher’s team manufactured decent breaks but more often that not failed to finish what they started.
At that stage it was Donegal who were camped as Cork took the initiative through a Hurley point but a McBrearty score from a better break took the Donegal lead out to two. Few knew it then but it was to prove the winner.
O’Neill’s fourth free was a prelude to more Cork pressure as the draw looked a possibility. Donegal held on by the skin of their teeth.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Eamon McGee, Eamonn Doherty; Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh; Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye (0-1); Martin O’Reilly (0-4), Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1, 1f), Ryan McHugh; Patrick McBrearty (0-3, 1f), Michael Murphy (0-3, 3f), Hugh McFadden. Subs: Martin McElhinney for McFadden (half-time), Colm McFadden for Toye (56), Anthony Thompson for Lacey (60), Eamon McGee for Doherty (65), Joe Gibbons for McBrearty (70).
Cork: Ken O’Halloran; Tom Clancy, Michael Shields, James Loughrey; Jamie O’Sullivan, Eoin Cadogan, Tomas Clancy (1-0); Fintan Goold, Mark Collins (0-1); Colm O’Driscoll (0-1), John O’Rourke, Kevin O’Driscoll; Colm O’Neill (0-4, 4f), Donncha O’Connor (0-1, 1f), Brian Hurley (0-1). Subs: Conor Dorman for O’Sullivan (43), Paul Kerrigan for O’Connor (47), Paddy Kelly for C O’Driscoll (56), John Hayes for K O’Driscoll (65), Donal Óg Hodnett for O’Rourke (66).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).