Fortuitous goals give Donegal six point win over Cavan in Clones

Donegal are back in another Ulster final but the winning margin flatters them

Donegal 2-16 Cavan 0-16

By the end, with their place assured in another Ulster final and the game tailing off, Donegal manager Declan Bonner sent on Neil McGee for some fond cheers from their adoring fans.

It wasn’t an act of sentimentality. Donegal struggled with Cavan’s forward line all game, but there was a sense of drawing a line back to humbler times.

McGee made his championship debut in 2007 against Down. Later that summer, Michael Murphy emerged in a game against Leitrim. They went their first four summers without a sniff of the big Ulster games until Jim McGuinness came in as manager as 2010 was drawing to a close.


Both men are now looking into their 10th Ulster decider in the last 12 seasons.

Such experience, and experience of winning tight games was on full display here. Cavan, bolstered by memories of the time they shocked the world in the great lockdown final of 2020, showed no respect for their opponents and although they had the breeze and much the better performances in the first half, it was still only level at 0-9 each when the teams broke for tea.

They got a spurt of scores after reverting Murphy to the edge of the square, going up by three after 44 minutes, and yet a resilient Cavan were back level by the 57th minute.


In this era of ‘low blocks’, ‘possession restarts’ and overloading for the kick-out, there is still reassuringly a place for getting ‘er launched.

Well, sort of. A Jamie Brennan shot was dropping short and in the danger zone was Michael Murphy and two defenders in blue, Killian Clarke and Killian Brady, were drawn to him.

Such was the Glenswilly magnetism that goalkeeper Ray Galligan also sprinted from his line and panic ensued. Brady flapped at it and the loose ball fell to substitute Conor O'Donnell, who instinctively sidefooted it, rolling it to the net like Robbie Fowler.

It was a tough, tough moment for Cavan. They had their own goal chances themselves, most obviously when James Smith got onto the end of a Conor Moynagh flighted delivery and speared a shot that Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton parried to the crossbar.

The concession of the goal deflated Cavan. And six minutes later Niall O’Donnell had another shot that fell short - he was having his jersey tugged at the time - and the break actually bounced off Paddy McBrearty’s head. Surprised to see it materialise in front of him, he slammed his shot to the corner of the net. Game over.

Cavan are an interesting county to consider at any time. Playing their matches in Division Four was a typically out of body experience for their supporters and there is no doubt that they would be the best team in the Tailteann Cup if they can get their dander up sufficiently for it.

So the question for manager Mickey Graham is how does he manage that?

“Ah look, the boys have been resilient and they deserve serious credit for the last number of years with relegations and people writing them off. But when it comes to championship they always pull out a big performance out of the bag and that’s another one today,” he said.

“To be honest with you, I think the six points flattered Donegal. Let’s be honest, I will watch it tomorrow and maybe the next day but I couldn’t be prouder of the lads. They gave everything to ask of a bunch of lads.”


In trying to prise a comment out of Bonner about 2020 being a motivating factor, well you'd be safer playing handball against a haystack. On May 29th he will have either Derry's Rory Gallagher or Banty McEnaney of Monaghan looking down the line, second-guessing him.

“A goal was always going to be an important score in the game, it was probably fortuitous with the long ball in and Conor finished it. We’ll take those any day of the week,” he acknowledged.

With just two balls played in with some air underneath them, it resulted in two goals. Neither was a deliberate pass, but that’s for the boffins to ponder.

In the meantime, they will march around Clones once more on Ulster final day.

DONEGAL: 1 S Patton; 2 C Ward, 3 B McCole, 4 S McMenamin; 5 R McHugh, 6 EB Gallagher, 17 P Mogan (0-1); 18 H McFadden, 9 J McGee; 10 C Thompson (0-1), 11 S O'Donnell, 12 M Langan; 13 P McBrearty (1-4, three frees), 14 M Murphy (0-5, four frees), 15. J Brennan (0-4).

Subs: 8 C McGonagle (0-1) for McFadden (37mins), 7 O McFadden-Ferry for Ward (50), 19 C O'Donnell (1-0) for Thompson (59), 23 N O'Donnell for S O'Donnell (65), 24 A Doherty for Brennan (69), 21. N McGee for Mogan (71).

CAVAN: 1 R Galligan (0-1 free); 2 J McLoughlin, 3 P Faulkner, 4 K Brady; 5 L Fortune, 6 K Clarke, 7 C Brady; 8 T Galligan (0-2), 9 J Smith (0-3, one mark); 10 G Smith (0-1), 11 G McKiernan (0-3, one free), 12 C Moynagh; 13 C O'Reilly, 14 P Lynch (0-6, three frees), 15 C Madden.

Subs: 21 M Reilly for C O'Reilly (45 mins), 23 O Kiernan for C Madden (55), 19. Caoimhín O'Reilly for K Brady (65).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).