Dublin and Donegal both left a bit empty after semi-final

One suspects the video analysis of this match won’t play much part in the coming weeks

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan fists over a point during their win over Donegal. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan fists over a point during their win over Donegal. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Dublin 1-18 Donegal 1-14

All hail, then, the joint-winners of the 2021 National Football League. The Dubs came through their semi-final with few complications, outstaying Donegal in a glorified challenge match on Saturday night with a comfortable four points to spare. Presumably they and Kerry will meet in Thurles to pass the cup between them for six months apiece.

It was an outcome that satisfied nobody, albeit the kind of thing we’ve all become used to. Everyone is so cognisant of living in a Covid-altered world that it feels churlish and ultimately pointless to raise any sort of row about it all. This was the half-a-loaf league, better than no bread but not by much.

“It is what it is,” shrugged Dublin selector Mick Galvin afterwards. “But it probably shouldn’t have come to this to be quite honest with you. You play a game like this, with the other semi-final being played on the same night, obviously we would look forward to a final. How it came to this I don’t know. We’re happy with what we got out of the league but we’ll just have to get on with it.”

It was all a little surreal. Not that this game had a whole pile of standing to begin with, but the rug was entirely pulled out from under it by the hammering Tyrone took in Killarney earlier in the day. It meant that these two teams were playing a semi-final for which there could be no possible final. A kind of a mezzanine match, taking place on the 7½th floor like in Being John Malkovich.

It looked every inch of it, too. Both teams sat in, packed their defences, gave the opposition the ball and looked to hit on the break. Donegal lined out with probably no more than eight of the team that will start against Down in a fortnight and did pretty well in the early exchanges. Michael Langan notched a typically languid opener, Niall O’Donnell followed up with a fine breakaway score.

But it was all very ho-hum. Nobody sweated too heavily or got too excited - save for Donegal selector Stephen Rochford roaring himself hoarse from the stands. Dublin had no real trouble keeping pace. Cormac Costello was unerring from dead balls and Paddy Small chipped in as well. With 10 minutes to go until the break, the sides were level at 0-6 apiece.

And then they weren’t. All it took was a little Dubs pressure on the pedal and they opened up clear water. Ciarán Kilkenny found a pocket of space where none looked to exist. O’Callaghan sized up Brendan Cole for a pair of concrete shoes and tossed him overboard with a swing of the hips to fist his second of the day. Costello nailed a free.

Next thing you know, Dublin turned the ball over in their own 45 and broke down the pitch like a pickpocket gang. Brian Fenton picked out the 50-yard sprint of Eoin Murchan as Paddy Small and Costello broke off him in opposite directions. Murchan transferred for Costello who put Small in behind with a sumptuous long handpass and the finish was emphatic.

Just like that, a draw game was turned into a five-point Dublin lead. The doughty Caolan McGonagle kept trucking and pulled one back for Donegal before the break but the 1-8 to 0-7 half-time lead already looked to be enough for the Dubs.

And if there was any doubt on that score, they wiped it away with the first three points of the second half through Seán McMahon, Fenton and Kilkenny. It was all very straightforward really. The game was a game and then it wasn’t. Donegal felt fairly happy with where they stood and then 10 minutes later they were gone.

Patrick McBrearty stuck to his task and found the next three points (two from frees) - but those were the last Donegal scores for the next 10 minutes. Brian Howard got in on the action, O’Callaghan fisted another, Costello was steady as the tides from the floor. A possible turning point was averted when Evan Comerford pulled off a fine save from Oisín Gallen on 52 minutes when a goal would have left just three between the teams.

Dublin eased home from there and a late 1-1 cameo from Donegal sub Eoghan McGettigan did nothing to worry them. Bonner’s side play Down in a fortnight in Newry. We can take it the video of this game will play little part in their preparations.

“We were without six or seven lads there tonight we just didn’t want to risk,” Bonner told us afterwards. “Some of those wouldn’t have been able to play, some of those would have played if it was championship. We just didn’t want to risk them, two weeks out from going into a tough match in Newry so we had to get those guys ready for that.

“When you start a league campaign you want to see it out. It has done the league a disservice by not doing that, and for the sake of one extra week, it probably could have been done to be quite honest. But listen, it’s done, it’s dusted and it is over with. We have to get ready for a championship match in two weeks’ time. And preparations have to start immediately.”

DUBLIN: Evan Comerford; Mick Fitzsimons, Davy Byrne, Seán McMahon (0-1); Eoin Murchan, Brian Howard (0-1), James McCarthy; Brian Fenton (0-1), Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne; Niall Scully, Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2), Colm Basquel; Paddy Small (1-3, one mark), Con O’Callaghan (0-3), Cormac Costello (0-6, five frees, one 45).

Subs: Eric Lowndes for Murchan (h-t); Sean Bugler for Basquel (50); Tom Lahiff for Ó Cofaigh Byrne, Aaron Byrne (0-1) for Scully, (both 55); Philly McMahon for Fitzsimons, Conor McHugh for Kilkenny (both 60); Shane Carthy for Small (67).

DONEGAL: Shaun Patton; Odhrán McFadden Ferry, Stephen McMenamin, Brendan Cole (0-1); Ryan McHugh, Eoin McHugh, Ethan O’Donnell; Caolan McGonagle (0-2), Hugh McFadden; Ciarán Thompson, Odhrán Mac Neilis (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-6, two frees, one mark), Michael Langan (0-2), Oisin Gallen.

Subs: Conor O’Donnell for Mac Neilis (29 mins); Caolan Ward for McMenamin (h-t); Eoghan McGettigan (1-1) for Gallen, Eunan Doherty for McFadden-Ferry (both 54); Daire Ó Baoill for O’Donnell, Jason McGee for McFadden (both 56); Tony McLenaghan for E McHugh (62).

Referee: Ciarán Branagan (Down)

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