Royals let chance slip away
Donegal 2-19 Meath 1-13
There was a moment in Ballybofey yesterday when Donegal's candidacy as genuine All-Ireland contenders seemed highly dubious.
Meath, widely deemed interlopers to this exalted stage of the Championship, had summoned a burst of scoring that put them temporarily into the lead.
Donegal's use of the ball became ponderous in the final third. And so the scorched supporters in MacCumhaill Park became collectively agitated. That was in the 54th minute.
From then until the end of the game, Meath scored 0-1.
Donegal, re-energised by their proven leaders and talented bench, powered for home and scored 1-6.
"I thought we showed real character to come back," reflected Declan Bonner afterwards.
"I thought the lads coming off the bench had a major contribution."
The sense of satisfaction in Ballybofey yesterday afternoon wrestled with a feeling of relief.
This was Donegal's designated home match against the team making their debut in the Super 8s and least fancy to make it any further.
With Kerry in Croke Park next week and a trip to Ballybofey to come thereafter, a victory here was utterly vital for Bonner's team.
"Listen, exactly, there's no doubt about that," he admitted.
"It's vital that we won our home match and we go to Croke Park now next Sunday with two points in the bag. We have to improve, but when your first match is at home you've got to win it."
Naturally, it helps to have players of the calibre of Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh in your team.
At 25, McBrearty was playing his 100th game for Donegal and he threatened to score with every p ossession. McHugh generated much of their energy, scorching the earth every time he touched the ball.
Murphy meanwhile, was simply a colossus and his contribution far outweighed his scoring tally of 0-3 (1 '45).
"I thought they showed real character, to be quite honest, going from five points up to a point down. We were asked a lot of questions and the lads showed character," said Bonner.
Though it finished in disappointment, most of Meath's day seemed promising.
Early on, Cillian O'Sullivan drove incessantly at the Donegal defence, while Bryan McMahon's shooting from acute angles was pristine.
"Look, a point up with 15 minutes to go does not get the job done so we would be very disappointed," reflected Andy McEntee afterwards.
"But very proud and happy with the performance, considering the amount of people who did not give us a chance.
"We put on a decent show out there."
As ever, Donal Keogan was their engine.
The Meath co-captain was fouled by a combination of Donegal defenders early in the second half for the penalty Mickey Newman converted to prompt the comeback.
It was the second penalty Keogan, ostensibly a defender, was fouled for this summer this year in a Championship where he has had direct assists for five Meath goals.
"We had the momentum and we switched off for a second and we fell to a long kick-out tactic which has served them very well," said McEntee.
"We fell asleep, they got momentum and we struggled to get it back. That happened us a couple of times against Donegal and that is down to the quality they have. They are hard to stop."
SCORERS - Donegal: P McBrearty 1-6 (0-3f), O Gallen 1-1, J Brennan, Murphy (1 '45) 0-3 each, R McHugh 0-2, J McGee, N O'Donnell, M Langan, E McHugh 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), B McMahon 0-3, B Menton, C O'Sullivan 0-2 each, S McEntee, J Conlonm J McEntee, D Campion 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: S Patton 8; S McMenamin 5, N McGee 6, O McFadden Ferry 6; P Brennan 6, E Gallagher 5, R McHugh 8; H McFadden 6, J McGee 7; C Thompson 6, M Murphy 8, N O'Donnell 5; P McBrearty 8, M Langan 7, J Brennan 7. Subs: D Ó Baoill 6 for Brennan (43), E McHugh 7 for Thompson (48), O Gallen 7 for O'Donnell (48), F McGlynn 6 for McGee (60), E Doherty 6 for McFadden Ferry (68), C Ward 6 for McMenamin (70)
MEATH: A Colgan 7; S Lavin 6, C McGill 7, S Gallagher 6; D Keogan 8, P Harnan 7, G McCoy 6; M Menton 7, S McEntee 6; E Devine 6, M McMahon 7, J McEntee 6; C O'Sullivan 7, M Newman 7, J Conlon 6. Subs: S Walsh 6 for Conlon (43), D Campion 6 for Devine (45), S Curran 6 for Gallagher (57 black card), G Reilly 6 for McMahon (62), A Flanagan 6 for S McEntee (65), T O'Reilly 6 for O'Sullivan (69)
REF: C Lane (Cork)