Maybe there was a direct correlation between a lifeless Donegal performance that saw them fall to a second loss in Division One on the same weekend Kevin Cassidy announced his retirement from inter-county football.
Alan Foley at O’Donnell Park
On a spring afternoon in Letterkenny when Laois defied their position as favourites for the drop, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness was questioned about Cassidy, who was standing three yards from him in role as TG4 analyst, in the pre-match interviews.
“Kevin made his decision and that’s it,” McGuinness said. “We have to move on now. He made his comments and they are what they are. From my point of view we have dealt with the issue.”
The incident somewhat overshadowed an industrious performance from Laois, who were roundly criticised having lost at home to Mayo last week. Late goals from Anthony Thompson and Neil Gallagher merely papered over the Donegal cracks and the Laois spadework had been done at that stage.
“We would be very happy with the performance and the workrate,” manager Justin McNulty said afterwards. “It was phenomenal and I have to commend the lads after the disappointment of Mayo last week.
“There was a lot of criticism shouldered by the players but for them to bounce back with that performance, I’m delighted. Them boys gave it their all. We’ve won a game but it’s not going to decide the season. Obviously Donegal were missing a few boys but we’re delighted with the effort of our team.”
The visitors opened very brightly, with Ross Munnelly scoring three fine points from play, while David Conway, Colm Begley and Padraig Clancy were also on target.
Minus experienced players like Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy, Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney, Donegal’s only forward capable of scoring was Leaving Certificate student Patrick McBrearty. The 18-year-old scored four first half points, two from frees, to take his team back to within two, 0-6 to 0-4 down, as the first half drew to a close.
However, that was as close as Donegal would get as in the final minute of the opening 35, referee Michael Duffy awarded Laois a penalty after Karl Lacy was adjudged to have pushed Paul Cahillane as he was about to pull the trigger. The Laois corner-forward dusted himself down to place the ball into the bottom corner, past Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan to give the Leinster side a sturdy interval advantage, 1-6 to 0-4 in front.
In their opening day defeat, Laois had bombed balls in on Clancy, who has been operating at full-forward instead of his normal abode at centre-field. The outcome in Portlaoise wasn’t as spectacular as McNulty might’ve wanted but in Letterkenny there was a more satisfying conclusion for player and manager.
Seventeen minutes into the second half, following points from Darren Strong and Conway, Clancy outjumped Neil McGee to plant a second Laois goal. Conway then picked up the break from another Clancy and McGee tussle to put Laois 2-9 to 0-4 ahead.
Parts of the disappointed home crowd that started spilling out the gates at that early stage missed Donegal’s attempted comeback. Rory Kavanagh’s point was greeted with only a muted response but two goals in 50 seconds increased the decibel level.
The first, from Anthony Thompson on 61 minutes, was contentious. Donegal full-back McGee joined the attack, although fluffed his shot before Eoin Culliton spilled the ball to the Donegal wing-back, who smacked from the ground. Although Kieran Lillis managed to partially block the umpire waved the green flag to indicate the ball had slipped over the line.
It got no better for the Laois full-back as from Donegal’s very next attack he got a hand but failed to cut out a pass from McBrearty to Neil Gallagher and the stand-in full-forward smashed the ball home. The margin Laois possessed had been scratched down from 10 to four but from there they weathered the storm.
Eight minutes and two of stoppage rendered only one more point, when Kavanagh scored from an acute angle, which meant Laois can look forward to the rest of their series with renewed optimism, while Donegal looked to be embroiled in a relegation battle.
“We’re very disappointed with the performance and our energy levels,” McGuinness said. “We missed Michael (Murphy) and Colm (McFadden) a lot in the full-forward line. There’s a lot of work but at least they showed a lot of heart to try and get back into it. Laois are a physically strong team and they put a lot of emphasis on that, while our three biggest players are Michael, Colm and Christy Toye and when you take them out of your team then it has an impact.”
Donegal: P Durcan; F McGlynn, N McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson (1-0), K Lacey, L McLoone; R Kavanagh (0-2), N Gallagher (1-0); M McHugh, R Bradley, M O’Reilly; D Molloy, P McBrearty (0-4,2f), A Hanlon. Subs: David Walsh for Molloy ht; S Griffin for Hanlon 45; E McGee for McGrath 57; Declan Walsh for Bradley 67; E Waide for Lacey 72
Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O’Leary; D Strong (0-1), J O’Loughlin, C Boyle; K Meaney, B Quigley; R Munnelly (0-3), C Begley (0-1), D O’Connor; P Cahillane (1-0, pen), P Clancy (1-1), D Conway (0-3,1f). Subs., C Kelly for Cahillane 57; MJ Tierney for Conway 67; J Kavanagh for O’Connor 72.
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)