Michael Murphy hit 1-4 for Donegal
An energetic and inventive Donegal side had far too much power and panache for a heavily understrength Meath side in Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh.
And while it was officially billed as a challenge match, Rory Gallagher’s mostly young men approached this encounter with an intensity rarely witnessed in January.
But it is only two weeks until the visit of Kerry and Donegal is in a period of intense transition, so there are places to be won and held, for the ambitious.
Donegal were never really troubled by Meath, apart from a ten-minute spell in the second quarter when the middle of the defence looked briefly vulnerable.
But once a relatively quiet Michael Murphy calmly goaled, after a great pass form Ryan McHugh unlocked the Royals defence, the result was never in any doubt. Murphy is off to Clermont Avergne in the south of France this weekend to take part in The Toughest Trade.
The team captain’s clinical strike put Tir Chonaill ahead by 1-8 to 0-2 in the 26th minute.
Murphy and Paul Brennan were also part of an unexpected outburst of petulance early in the second half that saw them being “substituted” along with Meath’s Conor McGill and Mickey Burke.
In a different matter Neil McGee was also “substituted”.
The changes were made after around a dozen players from both sides started to persistently hold on to each other and each other’s jersies for dear life, much to the chagrin of referee Martin Higgins.
But this isolated and somewhat bizarre incident did not define a well-contested affair where Donegal’s impressive speed of movement and ability to create scoring chances constantly had the Meath defence under pressure.
Gallagher fielded five U-21’s in Conor Morrison, Ethan O’Donnell, Jason McGee, Michael Langan and the very impressive Jamie Brennan, who were all given a chance to shine.
Eamon McGrath and Cian Mulligan were brought on as subs in a team where the returned Darach O’Connor, Conor Gibbons and Ryan McHugh especially stood out.
For a mostly outgunned Meath side Bobby O’Brien and Brian Sheridan (who looks very much like his older brother Joe) briefly threatened the Tir Chonaill rearguard in the opening half.
But they could not cope with the dark darting dervish that is Ryan McHugh, who repeatedly carved openings in the Royal rearguard and hit three fine points also.
Conor Gibbons and Michael Langan took their scores well while, of the myriad of subs used Mark McHugh and Darren McKeever stood out most.
Donegal were quickest to settle and raced to an early 0-4 to 0-0 through Langan, Gibbons, Murphy and Ryan McHugh.
But they were briefly rocked when Sheridan and Daniel Queeney unlocked the Donegal rearguard for the later to find the net in the 10th minute.
This was a brief respite for Meath who could just not cope with the repeated raids from a lively looking Donegal.
Murphy unusually missed a penalty as Royal keeper Robbie Burlington deflected his well-struck effort over the bar in the 16th minute.
The winners were well worth their half-time lead of 1-11 to 1-3.
And, after the mini melodrama was over, subs from both sides flooded the field and Jamie Brennan got the winners' second goal minutes from time.
William Carry replied with a similar but very tokenistic effort.
But, Gallagher’s men never flagged and maintained a crisp pace to the finish that augurs well for the future as the likes of Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey, Paddy McGrath, Paddy McBrearty, Eoin McHugh, Ciaran Gillespie, Michael Carroll and Martin McElhinney have yet to be added to this towering mobile and athletic squad.
Donegal: Mark Anthony McGinley, Conor Morrison, Neil McGee, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Caolan Ward, Ryan McHugh (0-3), Ethan O’Donnell; Jason McGee, Hugh McFadden; Ciaran Thompson, Michael Langan (0-2), Conor Gibbons (0-4); Jamie Brennan (1-2), M Murphy (1-4,1pen).
Subs: Cian Mulligan, Eamonn McGrath, Paul Brennan, Mark McHugh (0-1), Darren McGeever (0-1)
Meath; Robbie Burlington, David Toner, Conor McGill, Mickey Burke; Alan Douglas, William Carry (1-0), P Brady; J Toher, A Flanagan; S Lownes, Bobby O’Brien, David Larkin; Daniel Queeny (1-32f), Brian Sheridan, Daniel Lenihan (0-2)
Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh)