Dublin 2-15 Donegal 2-11
Bit by little bit, the Dubs are putting manners on their unruly league campaign. That they aren’t what they were a couple of seasons ago is still pretty clear to anyone watching on. That they equally aren’t what they were in the middle of last month must give them ample encouragement for the road ahead.
They got rid of Donegal here without a lot of fuss, kicking into gear either side of half-time to take control of a patchy enough encounter in front of 15,962 paying guests at HQ. Midway through the first half, they trailed by 0-2 to 1-4. Midway through the second, they led by 1-11 to 1-6. When you outscore the other crowd by 1-9 to 0-2 across 35 minutes of playing time, you generally take the day.
It quelled what had been a decent opening to the game by Donegal. Patrick McBrearty was particularly elusive all afternoon and he had begun it by swinging over a couple of smart points and feeding Ryan McHugh for another. He had also raised the first green flag of the day, albeit that it came as a pure fluke when a shot for a point dropped in over Michael Shiel in the Dublin goal.
Luck or no luck, Donegal were playing some decent stuff. For the first time all year, they were kicking regularly into McBrearty and Jamie Brennan in the full-forward line and finding ways to make it stick. At the other end, Brendan McCole was putting in a terrific display on Ciarán Kilkenny. Jason McGee and Hugh McFadden were holding their own around the middle. But McCole aside, it didn't last.
"We started the game well," said Donegal manager Declan Bonner afterwards. "First 20 minutes, we were playing decent football. But there was a period in that second quarter where Dublin came back at us and tacked on three or four scores. We just turned the ball over a few times in that second quarter, basic stuff.
“We ended up with 12 wides, seven in the first [half] and five in the second and that is not like us. That’s a lot of wides at this level, and that is something we are going to have to rectify going into our championship campaign.”
Some of Dublin's top trumps came out to play here. Brian Howard was easily best on show, planting three points from pleasing distances and angles and lording it in the skies to secure possession and get them moving. Brian Fenton wasn't quite as eye-catching but put in a leader's afternoon all the same. Cormac Costello and Dean Rock were bright and sparky in the inside line.
The tide started turning Dublin's way when Seán Bugler stole in on goal after 19 minutes, only for Shaun Patton to come out and smother his shot. Donegal had a chance to clear their lines but Costello was in pickpocket form and he snatched his second of the day. A minute later, Costello turned provider, sending Tom Lahiff away. The big midfielder dished off to Niall Scully and the Dubs had their first goal. Just like that, Donegal had gone from controlling the game to being only a point up.
By half-time, they were three behind. All those kick passes that had stuck in the opening quarter were now coming back with interest. Howard speared over a couple of beauties from distance, including the score of the day from 45 metres on an angle with the outside of his right foot. Fenton galloped through to the edge of the D for one after good work from Jonny Cooper, Lahiff chipped a nice one from almost the exact same spot soon after. By the time Cormac Reilly sent everyone indoors, Dublin led by 1-8 to 1-5.
The second half was essentially more of the same. Costello and Howard were menacing most times they got on the ball and they stitched another point apiece before the hour. Fenton should have had a goal on 46 minutes but could only find the side netting. By midway through the half, Dublin were five up and cruising.
Out of nowhere, Donegal found a lifeline. McHugh spotted Michael Murphy one-on-one with James McCarthy at the edge of the square and pinged a bespoke ball down on top of them, which Murphy duly flicked to the net. It brought the margin back to two but as it turned out, it was only delaying the inevitable.
Though McBrearty continued to shine – he ended the day with 1-6 to his name, 1-5 from play – Dublin were able to pick off their scores too easily at the other end for it to really matter. The result was sealed when Rock buried a late penalty after fine work from twin full-back line marauders Davy Byrne and Mick Fitzsimons.
The Dubs go to Clones then to save their Division One status. They’d have taken that not so long ago, when they were the only team in the country without a league point.
DUBLIN: Michael Shiel; Mick Fitzsimons, David Byrne, Cian Murphy; James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Robbie McDaid; Brian Fenton (0-2), Tom Lahiff (0-1); Brian Howard (0-3), Seán Bugler (0-1), Niall Scully (1-0); Cormac Costello (0-3), Ciarán Kilkenny, Dean Rock (1-5, 1-0 pen, three frees).
Subs: Eoin Murchan for Cooper (52 mins); Lee Gannon for Scully (64); Brian O'Leary for Costello (67); Alex Wright for Kilkenny (71); Cillian O'Shea for McCarthy (72).
DONEGAL: Shaun Patton; Caolan Ward, Brendan McCole, Ódhran McFadden Ferry; Ryan McHugh (0-1), Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Stephen McMenamin; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee; Peadar Mogan, Michael Murphy (1-1, one free free), Aaron Doherty (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (1-6, one free), Conor O'Donnell (0-2), Jamie Brennan.
Subs: Shane O'Donnell for Brennan (50 mins); Ethan O'Donnell for Doherty, (56); Jeaic McKelvey for McHugh (60); Paul Brennan for McFadden (62); Neil McGee for McMenamin (70).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).