Mannion’s late sting-in-the-tail proves costly for demoted Donegal
Last-minute point has major consequences for All-Ireland champions in Ballybofey
Donegal 1-10 Dublin 0-13
Ultimately, despite the last-gasp dramatics that saw the All-Ireland champions relegated and a break in play for the match referee to be carried off with injury, this Allianz Football League encounter in Ballybofey remained resolutely low-key.
Donegal led Dublin for all but roughly three minutes of the match but when reserve referee Michael Duffy whistled it up, the visitors had drawn level, thanks to Paul Mannion whose well-taken point, the first of his six to come from play, condemned the home team to next year in Division Two.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness put a brave face on his team’s demotion but was clearly unhappy with the outcome of the match.
“Well, yeah. There were a lot of things going on near the end that had a major impact on the game and have relegated us as a result. I’m very proud of the players, the way they played. We did enough to win the game and we should have won the game, but we haven’t . . .
“Listen, you’re a journalist. You’ve seen the game as well as I’ve seen the game. You report on it tomorrow and I’ll read it.”
There were a few reasons Donegal didn’t hang on but the focus of home discontent was the 62nd-minute incident in which Martin O’Reilly’s scorching run through the middle opened a chance for Rory Kavanagh but he was challenged by Dublin replacement Jason Whelan, who appeared to catch him as he prepared to shoot.
No penalty was awarded and Donegal had to make do with a ‘45’, which eventually led to a free, pointed by Paddy McBrearty, after Philip McMahon bundled over Anthony Thompson.
A goal then would have given Donegal a four-point buffer going into the last 10 minutes instead of the more precarious 1-9 to 0-10 lead that they were unable to protect.
Credit Dublin with plugging away but the match should have been beyond their grasp by the time Mannion and another of the younger brigade, Jack McCaffrey, dug out injury-time points to earn the draw that sent Jim Gavin’s team to the top of the division.
A goal, created by McBrearty and crisply dispatched by Colm McFadden in the 10th minute established Donegal’s control of the match and although the visitors responded fitfully, including with three quality first-half points from Paddy Andrews, the All-Ireland champions stayed in front, leading at the break by 1-6 to 0-6.
That margin could have been greater had Ryan Bradley punished Michael Macauley’s failure to cut out a ball more stringently than by a point. More missed chances let to a total of seven first-half wides.
McBrearty was giving Kevin O’Brien a grim afternoon at corner back but his dominance exacted only a poor price because of some poor use of the ball.
Michael Murphy was given a more testing afternoon by his DCU colleague Jonny Cooper, who put in some good tackles to keep the All-Ireland captain scoreless from play.
Dublin’s most pronounced difficulties came in the half forwards where Paul Flynn and Tomás Brady struggled in the first half, both being replaced at the break, and Diarmuid Connolly ended up being switched.
In the 46th minute referee Pádraig Hughes was injured and had to be replaced by Duffy. Initially this didn’t appear to inhibit Donegal who, despite having to replace McFadden at half-time with cramp, opened up a four-point lead by the 49th minute, 1-8 to 0-7.
Donegal had been in championship training last week and perhaps those rigours began to catch up in the final quarter, as Dublin pressed. Three frees from Mannion closed the margin to a point and the home side looked a bit sluggish – Jack McCaffrey’s pace on one occasion catching and robbing Thompson of the ball.
Even before the Kavanagh incident, Odhran MacNiallais and Thompson had combined to give Ross Wherity a clear run on goal but his finish lacked precision and Cluxton made a good save in the 55th minute.
His Donegal counterpart Paul Durcan also made a strong contribution and saved from Whelan when the Dublin forward had been gifted a chance by a defensive error.
Jim Gavin could afford to be more philosophical about the penalty incident.
“I'd need to have a look at the tape and if you had showed it to me here I could make a call on it – but listen, they’re the moments in a game that sometimes go for you and sometimes go against you.”
DONEGAL: P Durcan; F McGlynn, E McGee, E Doherty; L Keaney, L McLoone, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, R Bradley (0-1); M McHugh (0-1), R Wherity, M McElhinney; M Murphy (0-3, frees), C McFadden (1-2, two frees), P McBrearty (0-3, two frees). Subs: O MacNiallais for McFadden (half-time), M O'Reilly for McElhinney (47 mins), D McLaughlin for MacNiallais (62 mins).
DUBLIN: S Cluxton (0-1, 45); K O’Brien, P McMahon, J Cooper; J McCaffrey (0-1), G Brennan, D Daly; MD Macauley, C O’Sullivan (0-1); P Flynn, T Brady, D Connolly (0-1, free); P Mannion (0-6, five frees), P Andrews (0-3), K McManamon. Subs: B Cullen for Brady (ht), J Whelan for Flynn (ht, D Bastick for Macauley (56), D Rock for Connolly (58 mins), M Fitzsimons for Brennan (63 mins).
Referee: Pádraig Hughes.