Donegal forced to work hard in seeing off spirited Meath
Darragh Campion put the visitors ahead towards the end but Donegal fought back
Donegal’s Odhrán McFadden Ferry celebrates scoring a goal during their All-Ireland SFC Super 8s victory over Meath. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Donegal 2-19 Meath 1-13
The nerves floated across Sean MacCumhaill Park when Meath substitute Darragh Campion put his team ahead with 16 minutes to go.
Last August, Donegal suffered a first League or Championship loss at their old fortress when Tyrone picked their pockets.
Declan Bonner’s men rolled their sleeves up in the trenches here as experience saw them home.
In the final quarter, Donegal – whose lot included a goal from teenage replacement Oisin Gallen – scored 1-8 to a solitary Shane McEntee free for Meath.
“I thought we showed real character to come back,” observed a content Donegal manager, Declan Bonner.
“I thought the lads coming off the bench had a major contribution.
“We’d have taken a one-point victory. The main objective here was to win. We had a home match first in the Super 8s so it was important that we got two points on the board.
“We have to improve, but when your first match is at home you’ve got to win it and we’ve achieved that now so we move on.”
Michael Murphy was Man of the Match and the Donegal captain was omnipresent at times. A late ‘45 from the Glenswilly man completed his own contribution that included cameos upon every blade of the Ballybofey sod.
Patrick McBrearty marked his 100th Donegal appearance with an impressive 1-6. McBrearty soared in from the sideline, after Ciaran Thompson sent him away from Shaun Patton’s kick-out, and his thundering shot almost took the net from the River End’s posts.
Bryan McMahon hit the last point of the first half with Donegal 1-9 to 0-8 in front by the time breath was drawn at the break.
Meath hit back and Donegal were warned when Gavin McCoy slapped to the net after Patton saved from Bryan McMahon six minutes into the second half – only to be denied by a square ball call.
Meath inched back and when Michael Newman hammered in a penalty – after Daire Ó Baoill was deemed to have fouled Donal Keogan – to stir them into comeback mode.
Meath were soon level and Campion put them in front to rise the tensions.
With McBrearty, Murphy and Ryan McHugh leading the charge, Donegal remained calm and their vast swathes of experienced was telling.
Yet it was one of their rookies, Gallen, who netted after being fed by veteran Frank McGlynn, who added the coup de grace.
Andy McEntee, the Meath manager, cut a frustrated figure as he sighed: “Look it, a point up with 15 minutes to go does not get the job done so we would be very disappointed, but very proud and happy with the performance considering the amount of people who did not give us a chance. We put on a decent show out there.
“We had the momentum and we switched off for a second and we fell to a long kick out tactic which has served them very well.
“We fell asleep, they got momentum and we struggled to get it back. That happened us a couple of times against Donegal and that is down to the quality they have. They are hard to stop.”
This was a third meeting of these teams this year and each time Donegal came from behind to win.
McEntee insisted their rousing display for a period wasn’t a sideswipe at their critics.
He added: “What other people think does not bother us but some of the critique is fair, some unfair. You have to take it with a pinch of salt. Our job is to play the game and I thought lads put in a decent shift.”
Croke Park – and Kerry – await Donegal, who were without Paddy McGrath after the corner-back pulled up in the warm-up.
Bonner said: “You’re not going to be dominating games for 70-plus minutes. Meath are a good side. They’re a Division 1 side. They were going to get their spell of domination. And we didn’t handle it that well, to be honest.
“But I thought the character the lads showed in finishing off that last quarter was a really, really performance.
“Meath went ahead for the first time and that’s always a concern. But I thought we had the legs to come off the bench to make a telling contribution and that was key for us today.”
DONEGAL: S Patton; S McMenamin, N McGee, O McFadden-Ferry; R McHugh (0-2), P Brennan, E Gallagher; H McFadden, J McGee (0-1); C Thompson, N O’Donnell (0-1), M Langan (0-1); P McBrearty (1-6, 2f), M Murphy (0-3, 45), J Brennan (0-3).
Subs: D O Baoill for P Brennan (43), E McHugh (0-1) and O Gallen (1-1) for Thompson and O’Donnell (49), F McGlynn for McGee (61), E Doherty for McFadden-Ferry (68), C Ward for McMenamin (70+1).
MEATH: A Colgan, S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; D Keogan, P Harnan, G McCoy; B Menton (0-2), S McEntee (0-1); E Devine, B McMahon (0-3), J McEntee (0-1); C O’Sullivan (0-2), M Newman (1-2, 1f, 1-0 pen), J Conlon (0-1).
Subs: S Walsh for Conlon (43), Darragh Campion (0-1) for Devine (46), S Curran for Gallagher (b-c, 57), G Reilly for B McMahon (63), A Flanagan for S McEntee (66), T O’Reilly for O’Sullivan (70).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).