When Meath came to Ballybofey as All-Ireland champions in November 1988, it was the first meeting of Donegal and Meath in Division One.
They were sent packing by one of Donegal’s best ever displays, one that made manager Tom Conaghan very happy.
The Donegal Democrat report was as follows:
In what must surely rank as one of the most impressive results ever to come out of MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, in recent times, Donegal outplayed, outclassed and outwitted National League and All-Ireland champions, Meath, in a thoroughly absorbing and dramatic encounter last Sunday.
True, it may not have been a full Meath side, but this should not take away from the home team’s achievement as on the day it would have been difficult for any fifteen to match the Donegal lads for sheer guts and determination.
Have they made the all important breakthrough in terms of having the confidence and the will to win? Only time will tell but surely supporters and critics can take heart from this excellent result.
It was also an unusual Donegal performance in many respects. The forwards looked much more comfortable playing together as they attempted a more direct approach. They weren’t afraid to take chances from far out while at the same time making space available for their colleagues if they wished to push an attach even further into the opponent’s goalmouth.
Midfielders Anthony Molloy and Martin Gavigan showed that given the time and encouragement they can adapt and be consistent. They changed style somewhat to counter the Hayes-Beggy threat with Molloy thinking two steps ahead of Hayes most of the time while Gavigan was sure and intelligent with his deliveries.
In defence there was just no way Meath were going to get any joy. Replacement full-back John Connors held the mighty Brian Stafford at bay while Cathal Campbell and John Joe Doherty broke down attack after attach. They switched many such opportunities into the forwards with the help of Donal Reid and Martin Shovlin on either wing and the tenacious Brian Tuohy in the centre.
In fact the combination play of the side showed on the day was the best and most effective for years. They discovered how easy it was to trouble opposing defences by getting rid of the ball early and let it do the work.
As usual Gary Walsh was his ever dependable self stopping two certain goals in between a multitude of good clearances.
POINT TO PROVE
Donegal had a point to prove entering this match. Questions had been raised about their ability to stick the pace in Division One but if last Sunday’s performance is any guideline those fears must now be gone.
Meath, for the most part, looked unlikely to cause too many problems. Their attack lacked penetration and apart from Beggy, showed little imagination. Brian Stafford got the show on the road after 48 seconds with a point following dangerous play from Campbell in defence. This, however, was to be his last until twelve minutes from the interval, when he sent over his second and last. Clearly his inability to find a way around Connors stunted his performance.
A Brian Murray ball to Seamus Carr forced a ‘50’ which Martin McHugh converted after three and a half minutes. Molloy and McHugh combined to send Pat Ward through to point from 40 yards a minute later. This was one of the best struck scores on the day and must give the Glenties lad confidence for the future. Ryan and Shovlin combined to force a line ball for McHugh nearing six minutes. The latter struck a beautiful shot over the Meath bar.
McHugh struck again in the eighth minute after Marty Carlin’s shot at goal came off the woodwork. Had he realised the time and space available to him he could have rattled the net with this one.
Gerry Martyn, Stafford and John Henry had points in Meath’s best spell in the game. Midfielder Sean Kelly had collided with Martin Gavigan and was forced to leave the field injured. He was replaced by Finian Murtagh, who moved into attack with Beggy coming to midfield.
Report by Connie Duffy
McHugh hit the post and Carlin appeared to be impeded while going for another stab at goal but the Royal County survived. Indeed had Gary Walsh not moved out fast to intercept David Beggy the game would certainly have taken a turn in another direction. His quick thinking saved the day. Further points from Carlin and two from McHugh gave the home team three points to spare with five minutes left in the half.
Repeated attacks were cancelled out by O’Malley and O’Connell who was in excellent form before a long Hayes shot dropped to the inrushing Beggy and he made no mistake by ramming it to the roof of the net. This brought the sides level at half-time despite the fact Donegal had for the most part the greater control of the game.
UP FOR GRABS
The game was up for grabs in the second half but while Donegal got stronger, Meath struggled to keep in the race. The killer blow came in the opening twelve minutes when Carlin and Brian Murray swamped the Meath half of the field and added four points. Murray’s three proved he was a player capable of great things. His only problem now is repeating the act.
Meath could only offer two points from sub Finian Murtagh in this half while four McHugh points, two from play and two from frees, crowned off his most impressive intercounty performance since the championship win against Down in Ballybofey three years ago. In fact the nine point tally was his highest ever in intercounty competition.
David Beggy came close while Gary Walsh again came to the rescue in front of goal when Mattie McCabe broke through. His save kept them well ahead and out of the danger zone.
Make no mistake about it, Donegal had to raise their game to climb above their opponents. Meath were capable of winning at any stage but simply lacked the finishing touch. An important victory, yes indeed, but still far from a position of comfort.
Donegal must keep their feet firmly on the ground from now on. Beating Meath was important, beating the rest will be even more important.
Donegal: Gary Walsh; John Joe Doherty, John Connors, Cathal Campbell; Donal Reid, Brian Tuohy, Martin Shovlin; Anthony Molloy, Martin Gavigan; Pat Ward (0-1), Brian Murray (0-3), Tommy Ryan; Martin McHugh (0-9), Marty Carlin (0-2), Seamus Carr.
Meath: Michael McQuillan; Martin O’Connell, Robbie O’Malley, Terry Ferguson; Colm Coyle, Liam Harnan, Brendan O’Reilly; Liam Hayes, Sean Kelly; David Beggy (1-0), Mattie McCabe, John Henry (0-1); Gerry Martyn (0-1), Brian Stafford (0-2), Liam Smith. Subs., Finian Murtagh (0-2) for Sean Kelly (inj); Frank Foley for Liam Harnan; Padraig Coyle for Liam Smith.
Referee: Seamus Prior (Leitrim)