The first league game for Jim McGuinness had a dramatic end but also left more questions than answers for the small attendance in MacCumhaill Park on Saturday night.
Neil McGee’s late goal and an last gasp point from Stephen Griffin gave Donegal a draw that they hardly deserved as Sligo dominated for most of the game and only they will know how they allowed Donegal to get back into the game.
Sligo manager Kevin Walsh kept his side in the dressing room for some time afterwards, obviously very unhappy that they had surrendered a share of the points.
But Sligo supporters went home much happier than their Donegal counterparts. They had to endure a first half when Donegal failed to gain any sort of foothold in midfield and they continued with their tactic of bringing everyone bar the front two behind the ball. The ploy of using Karl Lacey in a free role didn’t have the desired effect with Sligo benefitting as it allowed Charlie Harrison to drive forward at will and caused Donegal problems.
The significant quote from Jim McGuinness afterwards was: “We certainly got food for thought and have a lot of things to iron out over the next two weeks. But the good thing is that we have taken something from the game.”
Sligo showed a glimpse of what was to come in the opening ten minutes, but Donegal did get back into the game with Dermot Molloy and Michael Murphy pointing frees to lead by 0-5 to 0-3 after 23 minutes.
The early signs that Sligo were posing problems came to pass in the final fifteen minutes of the half when Mark Breheny and especially Adrian Marren came alive with Marren hitting three great points from play.
Donegal had set out their stall to be physical with plenty of late challenges. However, they were punished with two minutes of the half left when Kevin Mulhern was reported for a late challenge close to the sideline and he saw yellow for the second time. Even though Colm McFadden hit a great point from near the sideline a minute into added time, they trailed by 0-8 to 0-6 at the break.
“We simply did not turn up in the first half and did not do seventy per cent of what we had talked about before the game.
“But we turned it around in the second half and were much improved and after we settled the momentum was with us,” said McGuinness.
But they had to wait for that momentum as Sligo had a blistering start to the second half with Mark Breheny going through a gaping gap, denied by Peter Boyle but David Kelly sidefooted the rebound to the net. By the 47th minute they were 1-11 to 0-6 ahead with points from Breheny, Marron and Kelly.
It looked curtains for Donegal but they had three points in two minutes from Rory Kavanagh, a spectacular effort from Leo McLoone with his left and McFadden to reduce the margin to five by the 51st minute.
They were thrown a lifeline when a ‘45’ from Murphy was dropped in the Sligo ‘square’ and Conor Davey was penalised for touching the ball on the ground. Murphy’s penalty was saveds by Philip Greene but the Glenswilly man following up slid the ball home with his left.
Substitute Sean Davey opened the gap to three again and Leo McLoone and Breheny traded points with three minutes left.
Then Donegal got on terms through an unlikely source. Michael Murphy, who had become more prominent under the high ball, won possession and found Neil McGee all alone in front of goal. McGee shrugged off Greene to sidefoot home from close range to level matters.
Sligo responded with midfielder Tony Taylor ploughing through the middle to put Sligo back in the lead with less than a minute of normal time left. Donegal had one attack repulsed before Stephen Griffin popped over the equaliser with just seconds left on the two minutes of added time signalled and there was relief when Padraig Hughes whistled for full-time after the kick-out.
“We would have taken a draw when we were eight points down in the second half and down to 14 men as well as Neil McGee having a hamstring injury,” said McGuinness.
“The penalty turned the game for us and the second goal from Neil McGee brought us back into it when it looked as if Sligo were going to pull away again,” he said.
Between now and Saturday 19th, Donegal are going to have to find answers. That may mean getting a more experienced team on the field because the trip to Healy Park, Omagh will be another step up, especially as Tyrone lost their opening encounter away to Derry.
Donegal: Peter Boyle; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee (1-0), Kevin Mulhern; Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone (0-2), Kevin Cassidy; Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Ryan Bradley; Martin McElhinney, Dermot Molloy (0-2,2f), Mark McHugh; Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy (1-2,pen,2f), Colm McFadden (0-3). Subs., Daniel McLaughlin for McElhinney 28; B Dunnion for Thompson 40; S Griffin (0-1) for Molloy; C Classon for Bradley, both 47; D Walsh for McLaughlin 62
Sligo: Philip Greene; Charlie Harrison, Conor Davey, Ross Donovan; Keelan Cawley, Mark Quinn (0-1), Paul McGovern; Tony Taylor (0-2), Stephen Gilmartin (0-1); Mark Breheny (0-4,2f), Eamonn O’Hara, Francis Quinn; David Maye, Adrian Marren (0-4), David Kelly (1-1). Subs., S Coen for Maye 47; S Davey (0-1) for Quinn 61
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)