It was from darkness into light as Donegal left the disappointment of relegation behind them and got their Ulster Championship campaign up and running with a big win over Cavan,in Ballybofey, on Sunday.
Donegal . . . . 2-20
Cavan . . . . 1-15
In leaving a Spring of disappointment behind when Declan Bonener’s side won only one game - against Kildare - in seven league outings, Donegal hit the ground running in impressive fashion against the Breffni Blues.
Without regulars Paddy McGrath and Odhran MacNiallais, and with Ryan McHugh back for his first game in a couple of months, Donegal chalked up an impressive 2-20 with all but three of the points scored from play.
Ryan McHugh in the first half and second half substitute Cian Mulligan, late on, scored the Donegal goals.
McHugh showed great awareness to flick a poorly struck Michael Murphy ‘45 to the Cavan net on the 23rd minute. Donegal led 1-10 to 1-6 at half-time, with all their scores from play.
“We started a wee bit slow,” Donegal manager, Declan Bonner said afterwards.
“We had a lot of young lads, four or five starting for the first time, and we were a bit tentative.£
Caoimhin O’Reilly scored the Cavan goal on 15 minutes to propel the Breffni Blues into a 1-3 to 0-4 lead before Michael Murphy and company stretched the Donegal lead out to seven points, thanks to vintage long range points from Ciaran Thompson and Michael Langan.
Cavan reduced the margin before half-time with a Gerard McKiernan brace and one from defender Neil Murray.
“We had a purple spell midway through the first half when we kicked 1-6 and we were really good but then we allowed Cavan back into the game,” Bonner added.
“They kicked three points before half-time.”
Donegal cut loose on the resumption and peppered the Cavan posts as they knocked over six points before Cavan had time to catch their breath.
A rampant Michael Murphy kicked four of those points with Leo McLoone and Jamie Brennan posting the other two.
Donegal led by ten, 1-16 to 1-6, with 43 minutes on the clock and the game as good as over.
Cavan, to their credit, mounted something of a mini-revival and cut the lead to eight before Cian Mulligan put the lights out shortly after being introduced with a super goal.
The Gaoth Dobhair man burned off a number of defenders with his searing pace before drilling low and under the advancing Raymond Galligan, from 13 metres.
Patrick McBrearty and McKiernan traded late points before McKiernan brought down the curtain on the scoring two and a half minutes into injury time.
The only negative on the day was that Cavan got in to score 1-15, with 1-3 of that in the opening 15 minutes.
“Cavan at times did open us up and we'll have to have a look at that, but overall I thought the lads adapted well,” Bonner accepted.
Derry are next up for Donegal on Sunday week, in a quarter-final clash in Celtic Park.
DONEGAL: Shaun Patton; Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Neil McGee, Caolan Ward (0-1); Stephen McMenamin, Paul Brennan, Ryan McHugh; Hugh McFadden, Leo McLoone (0-1); Ciaran Thompson (0-3), Michael Langan (0-3), Frank McGlynn; Patrick McBrearty (0-4), Michael Murphy (0-6, 3f), Jamie Brennan (0-2).
Subs: Ciaran McGinley for Thompson 52; Eamonn Doherty for S McMenamin 57; Cian Mulligan (1-0) for R McHugh 59; Mark McHugh for F McGlynn 64; Stephen McBrearty for J Brennan 67.
CAVAN: Raymond Galligan; Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Niall Murray(0-1); Killian Brady, Ciaran Brady, Conor Moynagh; Killian Clarke, Bryan Magee (0-1); Cian Mackey (0-2,2f), Oisin Kiernan, Enda Flanagan; Caoimhe O’Reilly (1-3,3f),Gearoid McKiernan ()-7,2f),Conor Bradley. Subs:Fergal Reilly for K Brady 20; Niall Clerkin for N Murray h/t; Adrian Cole (0-1) for B Magee 43; Dara McVeety for E Flanagan 52.
REFEREE: David Gough(Meath)