Donegal fail to hit the heights as they grind down Down
Champions have room for improvement as they head into third successive Ulster final
In beating Down by 11 points last year, their biggest victory margin in the 2012 championship, Donegal took on an extra layer of invincibility that stood by them for the rest of the summer; here, they lost at least one layer of that invincibility, spending most of the second half dodging bullets, hand grenades, and the odd Molotov cocktail, yet somehow emerging safely.
There were certainly open for damage, McCartan admitting as much, yet confessing too that maybe his team didn’t truly believe it: “I would say, at the start of the game, maybe some of our players were believing what they’d been reading at times,” he said.
‘Too much respect’
“I felt maybe we showed them a wee bit too much respect in the first 15 minutes, letting them three or four points up, when that was the difference in the end. Towards the end, when they realised we weren’t going to be beaten out the gate, I think the belief started to grow. And we did have them rattled at times. But you know, quality teams get rattled and they respond. Donegal did that.”
McCartan didn’t faulty any of his players, and rightly so: Peter Turley, Ambrose Rogers, Kevin McKernan and Conor Laverty ran their hearts out; Kalum King stood up their strongest Donegal challenge, and Donal O’Hare hardly put a placed ball wrong – the only problem being his five frees accounted for more than half their scores.
The first half – the proverbial war of attrition – saw Donegal ease into a four-point lead, after just 15 minutes, before Down found their feet – and their hand-passing game, and closed it back to a two-point game, 0-6 to 0-4. Without McFadden it’s hard to see how Donegal would have held on until the end, but then that’s what champions typically do.
DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, E McGee, N McGee; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Bradley, R Kavanagh (0-1); David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty (0-1), M Murphy (0-5, four frees), C McFadden (0-5, one free). Subs: M O’Reilly for Declan Walsh (33 mins), M McElhinney for Bradley (34 mins), R McHugh for McGlynn (half time), R McWhirty for McLoone (46 mins), D Molloy for McBrearty (66 mins). Yellow cards: E McGee (26 mins), David Walsh (30 mins), F McGlynn (35 mins), Declan Walsh (68 mins).
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn; D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle; K King, K McKernan; A Rogers, M Poland (0-1), N Madine; C Laverty, B Coulter, D O’Hare (0-6, five frees). Subs: R Mallon for Quinn (49 mins), J Johnston (0-1) for Coulter (57 mins), D Savage (0-1, free) for Madine (63 mins). Yellow cards: C Laverty (13 mins), J Johnson (56 mins), D O’Hare (67 mins).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).