Home fixture, home win – that’s generally how things go for Donegal when it comes to league football and so it proved today. It was just a one point win in the end which would suggest a close game but in truth Donegal were a notch above their visitors from the Rebel County.
It was a typical Spring encounter in Ballyshannon – bitterly cold, a biting wind and even a hail shower or two thrown in. It all made for very tough conditions for the players and also for the Aodh Ruadh club volunteers manning the tea-stand – a gust of wind just after the half time whistle almost sent their takings into orbit but quick hands from everyone in the queue managed to keep the club accounts in the black.
Despite the slim margin at the final whistle, it was in the early stages that the battle was decided. With the wind at their backs, Cork went back to their old habits of lateral passing and slow build up play which suited Donegal’s massed defence. It was the wrong approach to take with a stiff breeze behind them and five points was a paltry return at the break - Donegal managed seven in the second half but with fourteen men for much of it.
The Rebels failed to get quick ball into their lethal inside line of Donnacha O’Connor, Brian Hurley and Colm O’Neill although the latter’s failure to score from play can also be attributed to the strong display of Neil McGee, who made his first start of the year.
At the other end of the field, the hosts were methodical in their attack construction as they faced the elements as well as Cork’s own blanket defence.
It was a tough combination to break down but going in level at the break was a decent return and it was primarily down to the finishing of Martin O’Reilly. The diminutive forward has a knack of popping up towards the end of moves in a yard of space and is prepared to try his luck with efforts on the target. His endeavour is being rewarded thus far in Division One and an impressive return of 0-4 from play was etched beside his name in the final totting up, a marvellous scoring feat considering the conditions.
For the second game in succession, Michael Murphy didn’t see out the full seventy minutes – a deserved black card against Dublin three weeks ago was followed today by a harsh second yellow caution. Up until that dismissal around the fifty minute mark, his side were in complete control having gone on a five point, unanswered scoring rampage at the start of the second half.
Such is Michael’s tackling style that he sails dangerously close to the wind at times yet he could have been given some leniency by Joe McQuillan today for what seemed an honest enough attempt at a challenge. The Cavan official seemed to be of the opinion that any subsequent foul to the initial yellow card results in an automatic second, which should not be the case.
In any event, Donegal needed to weather the storm that was thrown at them following the discharge of their captain and it was in the closing stages that Patrick McBrearty and Odhran MacNiallais showed great leadership and took on scoring responsibility. McBrearty scored the winner with a lovely finish after wriggling free of two red jerseys and it continued his fine run of form.
MacNiallais had a superb game from start to finish and it’s hugely encouraging to see that he’s not resting on his laurels after a sterling breakthrough season in 2014. The Gaoth Dobhair clubman is looking to push on and become a mainstay of this team and his maturity and intelligence develops with every outing.
Others to impress included Mark McHugh and Frank McGlynn with the phenomenal stamina that both players possess being utilised to the maximum today such was the amount of running required on the heavy pitch.
Neil Gallagher put in his customary effortless performance of fielding, defending and initiating attacks. While all around him, lads are straining every sinew to make and track runs, the big Glenswilly man does everything at his own pace and makes midfield play look so easy. He bossed the middle third today and at one stage in the second half, Cork used their numerical advantage to double team him on Paul Durcan’s restarts.
Durcan had a big bearing on the first half, illustrating how a goalkeeper should deal with kicking into a strong breeze. The low trajectory of his kicks gained both possession and distance for his side and allowed his team to start attacks from further up the pitch. Conversely Ken O’Halloran made a mess of his kick-outs at the start of the second period and the subsequent surrender of possession played a part in Donegal gaining such a foothold at that time in the contest; after the sending off, the Cork No 1 had a spare player to find and this made the retention of the ball much easier.
The manager’s main gripe after the Dublin match was his team’s lack of composure and failure to put away their chances. He won’t have been too happy with today’s closing quarter in that regard as his side should have been much further ahead before Tomas Clancy’s goal made for an unnecessarily nervy finish. Substitute Colm McFadden and the lively Ryan McHugh managed to spurn an excellent goal chance by over-playing the ball while shooting chances were ignored and the extra pass played a little too often.
The team’s economy in front of goal has a lot of room for improvement and next week in O’Donnell Park would be a good place to start.