Dublin edge Donegal in bizarre mezzanine semi-final match

Kerry’s landslide win over Tyrone earlier in the day meant there would be no league final

Dublin 1-18 Donegal 1-14

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

"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."

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. In the early exchanges, Donegal prospered – Michael Langan notched a typically languid opener, Niall O'Donnell followed up with a fine breakaway score thanks to a 60-yard sprint from Ryan McHugh.

And though Dublin replied with a fisted effort from Con O'Callaghan and a Cormac Costello free, Donegal were well able to get out and score at the other end. Paddy McBrearty, who had a fine night all round, whenever Donegal could reach him, stitched an excellent effort from out wide and a no-fuss mark in the space of a couple of minutes. Caolan McGonagle got on the end of a terrific passing move to keep Donegal ahead.

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 – 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. Small earthquake in Chile, not many dead.

All it took really was for the Dubs to put a little more downward 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 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 McGonagle kept trucking and pulled one back 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.

If this was an ordinary league semi-final, they could maybe have been expected to go eyeballs out trying to pull the seven-point margin back. But since there was really nothing to play for – and since they are out in a fortnight in the Ulster championship – there weren’t going to waste too much effort in the pursuit.

McBrearty stuck to his task and found the next three points (two from frees) – but they were the last Donegal scores for the next 10 minutes. Brian Howard got in on the action, Con 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. They play Down in a fortnight in Newry. We can take it the video of this game will play little part in their preparations.

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)