Donegal are looking forward to another big day out in Croke Park, following Saturday’s comfortable twelve point seim-final victory over Monaghan in the Nicky Rackard Cup in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.
They did it in some style in the second half after being very ordinary and lethargic in the first half, having trailed by a goal - 1-5 to 2-5 - at the changeover. But they hit cruise control in the second half and lived up to their pre match billing as favourites without really having to find their A game.
The fact that they had beaten the Farney men by 18 points earlier in the year, when they met in league, also in O’Donnell Park, may go some way to explaining to Donegal’s poor first half performance.
But there must have been a right good old fashioned chastising at the half-time as Ray Durack’s men were a transformed side in the second period.
The introduction of Lee Henderson was a factor too. The Sean MacCumhaill’s man scored 2-3 in the second 35 minutes. And with Danny Cullenrising to the challenge in midfield and Ciaran Matthewson, Sean McVeigh and Paddy Hannigan wakening from their first half slumber, the scores flowed for the winners, who had the result sown up long before the final bell.
Two goals in the space of three minutes after Cullen and Henderson had scored early second half points, saw Donegal race into a six point lead by the 44 minute mark.
Henderson’s first three pointer, which went all the way to the Monaghan net from a 65 metre free five minutes into the new half, saw the locals hit the front for the first time in the game, to lead 2-7 to 2-6.
And when Matthewson flashed to the Monaghan net 60 seconds later when the sliothar fell kindly for him in front of the Monaghan posts, for Donegal’s third goal, the bus was being booked for Dublin.
Leading 3-7 to 2-6 and the supporters barely back in their seats after the half-time interval, Donegal continued to pulverise the Monaghan posts for much of the remainder of the half.
Sean McVeigh and Paddy Hannigan both knocked over good points to stretch the Donegal advantage out to six points 3-9 to 2-6.
And while Monaghan sharpshooter Micheal McHugh, who ended the game with a personal tally of eight points, all from placed balls, converted two frees to reduce the margin at the end of the third quarter, the locals were soon rocking again when Henderson scored his second three pointer. This time a ‘65’ dropped short and into the Monaghan net with the Farney ‘keeper Gerard Ruddy, grasping at fresh air. The goal may have been of the soft variety but they all count and Donegal were now seven up and in cruise control.
It was lights out on Monaghan’s Nicky Rackard aspirations shortly afterwards when Danny Cullen scooped the ball to the net for goal number five, after an Enda McDermott strike for goal bobbled on the line. That was on 56 minutes, and with McHugh having posted Monaghan’s last point of the game three minutes before, Donegal were on their way.
With the clock ticking Henderson and Mathewson and Henderson again raised white flags to round off a good day out after a poor start for the green and gold caman wielders.
Good start for Monaghan
Monaghan were first to score after Donegal had fluffed their lines up front and had posted three scoreable wides. Brian McGuigan hit the back of Paul Burns net on nine minutes after the Donegal defence had coughed up possession.
And while Cullen on 11 minutes and Mathewson, six minutes later, got the locals up and running on the scoreboard, Monaghan still continued to set the agenda, aided in no small way by a Donegal defence that looked flatfooted and a little indisciplined in the tackle.
Mark Treanor and Michael McHugh punished with McHugh posting two long range frees - one from 70 metres and one from 65 metres - before McGuigan pounced for goal number two, after a run through the heart of the Donegal defence by Mark Treanor.
When McHugh scored Monaghan’s fourth point seven minutes from the break, Monaghan were six up and Donegal looked in a spot of bother.
With the clock ticking on the half Stephen Boyle resurrected the Donegal challenge with a well taken goal after getting on the end of long delivery over the Monaghan defence to bring his team back to within a goal of the visitors.
And with McHugh and Mathewson trading late points that is how it remained at the interval as Monaghan led 2-5 to Donegal’s 1-5, and hair dryer time in the home dressing room.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Martin McGrath, Justin McGee, Benny Harrigan; Christopher McDermott, Jamsie Donnelly, Joe Boyle; Justin Browne, Danny Cullen (1-2); Sean McVeigh (0-1), Enda McDermott (0-1), Stephen Boyle (1-0); Ronan McDermott, Paddy Hannigan (0-1), Ciaran Mathewson (1-4,2f). Subs: Lee Henderson (2-3, (2-1f,0-1’65’) for J. Browne (ht); Kevin Campbell for D. Cullen (72).
Monaghan: Gerard Ruddy; Shane McNally, Padraig Dowdall, Declan Crowe; Martin Murphy, Peter Trainor, Seamus Loftus; Kevin Crawley, Trevor Hillard; Brian McGuigan (2-0), Mark Treanor, Fergal Rafter; Michael McHugh (0-8,7 f, 1,65), Sean Leonard, Tadgh Campbell. Subs; Conor McKenna for F.Rafter (47); Ronan McAteer for G. Ruddy (67 inj); Hugh Byrne for T. Campbell (60); Patrick Finnegan for P. Dowdall (70).
Referee: Brendan MacSuibhne (Cavan).
Man of the match
Lee Henderson with 2-3 to his name for 35 minutes of action left his imprint on this game. Ciaran Mathewson scored 1-4 and contributed handsomely to the victory too. But the man who made Donegal tick when it mattered was midfielder Danny Cullen. He won vital possession and made sure the forwards enjoyed a liberal supply of ball. Even in the first half when things weren’t going all that well he was a ray of light and he capped a man of the match performance with a goal and two points.
While Stephen Boyle’s goal three minutes from half-time was a critical score, the green flags from Lee Henderson and Ciaran Mathewson in the space of a minute early in the second half were the game changers.
Brendan MacSuibhne may have made one or two questionable calls but overall the Cavan official had a good game and took a sensible approach by getting the play going again when a minor flare up threatened late on. He also consulted well with his officials after Monaghan full-forward Sean Leonard went down off the ball after which he issued Leonard and his marker Justin McGee with a yellow card each.