Donegal kept their All-Ireland hopes alive with a convincing win over Down in the opening round of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on Sunday afternoon.
In the end all of twenty points separated the sides but for long periods Donegal struggled to kill off the Down challenge. It wasn’t until the final ten minutes that Eamon O’Boyle’s side pulled clear. The Donegal boss made four changes to the side that had lost to Tyrone in the Ulster championship, one of those because of the unavailability of star forward Geraldine McLaughlin who is recovering from an operation. Her loss was looking a major blow particularly in the opening period as they wasted a number of scoring chances and shot 15 wides in all, ten of which came in that opening period.
It was to be another McLaughlin that was catching the eye, Moville’s Niamh, who tormented the Down rearguard throughout and used the wide open spaces of Clones to her advantage. Netminder Roisin McCafferty pulled off two wonderful saves while Niamh Hegarty and Yvonne McMonagle were also key to this victory. While Donegal will be disappointed with a number of aspects one of the main positives will be as the game wore on their performance improved and after Down had fought back to within four points, Donegal finished with an unanswered 3-7 in those final twenty minutes.
After a sluggish start from both sides Niamh Hegary hit the opening point on four minutes. Missed opportunities then flowed for the eventual winners with both Emer Gallagher and McMonagle wasting goal scoring chances. Down levelled matters on 13 minutes before Aoife McDonnell landed a score that seemed to inspire her side. Niamh Hegarty extended the lead and then on 18 minutes the same player struck for the games first major. It came from the penalty spot after the scorer herself was upended.
Seven minutes later and a second goal arrived after a strong run from Roisin Freil created the chance but it looked to have gone when she lost possession but the ball broke to McMonagle who pulled on the loose ball to fire to the top corner of the net from close range. Niamh McLaughlin added a point but the Mourne girls got themselves back in the game with a goal from their most dangerous player Natasha Ferris. McDonnell hit back with a point but at the other end Down could have hit a further major before the break when Ferris had an effort rattle the crossbar and Roisin McCafferty denied Shannon Kelly. Half time saw Donegal lead 2-5 to 1-1.
On the resumption Down should have found the net but Kelly blazed over with the goal at her mercy. Kyla Treanor followed with a point but McMonagle restored a six point advantage. Points from Ferris and Treanor reduced the deficit to four points but it was now that Donegal showed their potential going on to hit 3-7 without reply in the final 20 minutes. A fisted point from McLaughlin followed a McMonagle effort reopened their six point lead before both McLaughlin and McMonagle combined for the Moville girl to find the net.
Both players raised the white flag again but between both efforts Roisin McCafferty made a fine save to deny Treanor at the other end. The final major of the game came with two minutes of normal time remaining when a free from McMonagle dropped into the net. The scoring was wrapped up with points from Karen Guthrie, Grainne Houeston and substitute Brigin Devenney.
Donegal now join Dublin, Sligo and the winners of next Monday’s clash between Tipperary and Clare and will be drawn against a losing provincial finalist. The draw is due to take place next Monday, August 1.
Donegal: Roisin McCafferty, Kate Keaney, Katie Herron, Orla Carr, Grainne Houston (0-1), Ciara Hegarty, Kelly, Wilson, Aoife McDonnell (0-2), Karen Guthrie (0-1), Roisin Friel, Niamh Hegarty (1-2, 1-0p,1f), Emer Gallagher, Aisling Cunningham, Yvonne McMonagle (2-3, 1-1f), Niamh McLaughlin (1-3). Subs: Ursula Leonard (1-0) for R Friel, Olive McCafferty for O Carr, Niamh Friel for K Keaney, Brigin Devenney (0-1) for E Gallagher, Orla Furlong for K Wilson.
Down: Emma Joyce, Ciara O’Higgins, Cassie Moane, Emma Mulhern, Kathryn Boden, Coleen Magee, Orla Boyle, Sarah Venny, Clara Fitzpatrick, Grainne McClean, Kyla Treanor (0-2, 0-1f), Polly Moane, Natasha Ferris (1-2, 0-1f), Sinead Ennis, Shannon Kelly (0-1). Subs: Siobhan McCann for N Ferris, Tara Laverty for C Magee, Kerrieann Magee for C O’Higgins, Gemma Gibney for P Moane.
Referee: Sean McIntyre (Tyrone)