Wednesday 18 October 2017

Vincent Hogan: Lady luck smiles on Donegal as Kildare wilt

DONEGAL 1-12, KILDARE 0-14 , (After extra-time)

Yet again, a story within a story as this tactical stalemate found epic release, stretching dramatic licence to breaking point in Croke Park.

It was late on Saturday night as Donegal clambered through the maelstrom of their emotions to make the last four, but that cursed word 'Hawk-Eye' was back humming like strong liquor in the head.

Kildare had been deprived a 40th-minute goal that should have been. A goal that would have eased them six points clear which, in a contest of this hue, had to be tantamount to a view from the mountain-top.

Instead, they were left to fold their tents for another year and slip away with their hurt. The summer of the white coats had turned up another body.

None of this should obscure Donegal's courage, a quality they'd scarcely been renowned for until Jim McGuinness walked back into their effete lives last summer.

Kevin Cassidy's wonderful match-winning point was kicked two minutes into injury-time of the second period of extra-time. So late, the city's nightclub doors were open.

"A lot of the boys stood up to be counted out there," said their captain Michael Murphy later.

He'd walked in the parade, then slipped off to a seat in the stand, Donegal's medics counselling against over-exertion of a hamstring torn last Tuesday night in training.

But McGuinness was soon over-ruling the diagnosticians, calling Murphy from his seat before the half-hour, a sense of crisis already palpable in the body language of the Ulster champions.

They've been slow from the blocks all year, but this had a different feel to it. Kildare were running the game in that militaristic way of theirs, packing space, support runners materialising from the most unorthodox channels, their shirt numbers incidental.

The game seemed to be gasping for air as they eased 0-4 to 0-2 clear, a kind of baseline tennis exchange that had the audience tranquilised.

But Donegal almost blew a hole in the evening on 26 minutes when Mark McHugh torqued onto a brilliant Colm McFadden flick only for Shane Connolly to advance quickly and block McHugh's shot with his knees.

Minutes later, a poor Paul Durcan kick-out went straight to John Doyle and, two passes later, Eamonn Callaghan had a Hill end point.

McHugh's refusal to give up on lost causes facilitated the snaffling of an injury-time score for Donegal, but it was their first flag raised in half an hour. They looked a team in need of rehabilitation.

Kildare were back three to the good soon after the resumption and it was then that the umpires had their moment. Emmet Bolton dispossessed McHugh, fed to Doyle and the Kildare captain's effort at a point seemed to catch in the wind.

The ball curled late, collided with the left upright and dropped into the startled hands of Tomas O'Connor.

The big Clane man bundled the ball home, an act acknowledged with a green flag. But David Coldrick ran in for the now obligatory congressional hearing and -- sure enough -- the flags were duly crossed.

Video evidence would quarrel with the findings and, seconds later, Murphy had a point for Donegal.

What might have been a six-point lead was now a threadbare two.

Ryan Bradley and substitute Dermot Molloy then added quick-fire Donegal points and, incredibly, Kildare were now the team in crisis.

"Do you think you need 'Hawk-Eye' for some of the decisions that are going on at the minute?" Kieran McGeeney would sigh rhetorically maybe two hours later in the dressing-room tunnel.

The fatigue in his voice ached with an eternity of frustration. He's been down this road too often.

With 12 minutes of normal time remaining, Christy Toye went on for McFadden and -- without breaking stride -- collected a Frank McGlynn pass and buried it in the Hill end goal. Game over surely.


But Kildare's nature is to rally and an Eoghan O'Flaherty free was followed by a James Kavanagh point virtually from someone's living-room in Summerhill. And, for four minutes of added time, they swarmed the Canal End until a foul on Morgan O'Flaherty eventually enabled O'Flaherty kick a 73rd minute equaliser. The lights came on. The pendulum was swinging.

Now it was Kildare's turn to edge three clear, Alan Smith to the fore and the immense Daryl Flynn twice fielding McFadden frees that came dropping into their 'square'.

But the injury-time score from Karl Lacey (pictured left) allowed Donegal turn towards the Hill with just a two-point deficit. They were harbour sharks now, scenting blood.

"We're coached to keep going until the final whistle," Murphy would say later. "Maybe over the last number of years, this team shipped a lot of flak. Bad attitude. Maybe not working hard enough was another one. I suppose you can never get it right.

"This year we're accused of working too hard in certain quarters."

So two last huddles, two managers beseeching their players for 10 minutes of inspiration.

Emmet Bolton's point immediately stretched Kildare three to the good again but, thereafter, it was as if the high mileage of the qualifiers turned their legs to stone.

Because Donegal owned every molecule of what was left of it. Two Murphy points were followed by wides from Cassidy and Molloy. Then, the game already in injury-time, the grey-flecked head of Toye popped up to kick an equaliser.

Kildare were on their knees, only the clock to save them now.

But two minutes of added time had been called and, sure enough, in the second of those Cassidy swung home the spectacular kill-shot. Coldrick whistled. It was over.

With white bodies littering the field like chunks of melted snow, McGuinness smacked his nose off a camera-man's lens in his rush to greet his heroes. He looked unable to control the electricity in his limbs now.

"They never give up," he would say of his players later. "That's why I take so much pleasure from tonight. Because you're playing a team that are doing the same thing from the point of view of seeing it out to the very end."

He said he was in favour of 'Hawk-Eye' too but, for Kildare, that probably felt a bit like the man with your wallet calling for tighter community policing.

Their pockets were empty again. Summer had another victim.

SCORERS -- Donegal: C Toye 1-1, M Murphy 0-3 (1f), K Cassidy 0-2, R Kavanagh, M McHugh, D Molloy, R Bradley, P McBrearty and K Lacey 0-1 each. Kildare: E O'Flaherty 0-5 (4f), A Smith 0-3, B Flanagan, E Callaghan, P O'Neill, J Kavanagh, E Bolton and G White (f) 0-1 each.

DONEGAL -- P Durcan 8; F McGlynn 7, N McGee 8, P McGrath 6; A Thompson 7, K Lacey 8, K Cassidy 8; R Kavanagh 7, N Gallagher 6; R Bradley 7, M Hegarty 6, M McHugh 7; D Walsh 7, P McBrearty 6, C McFadden 6. Subs: E McGee 7 for McGrath (26 mins), M Murphy 8 for McBrearty (26 mins), M McElhinney 6 for Gallagher )half-time), D Molloy 7 for Hegarty (41 mins), C Toye 8 for McFadden (58 mins), K Rafferty 6 for McElhinney (70 mins), McFadden for Molloy (70 mins), Gallagher for Rafferty (80 mins), Molloy for McFadden (80 mins), McBrearty for Bradley (88 mins).

KILDARE -- S Connolly 8; A Mac Lochlainn 7, M Foley 8, H McGrillen 8, P O'Neill 7, E Bolton 7, M O'Flaherty 8, D Flynn 9, R Kelly 7, E Callaghan 7, B Flanagan 7, J Doyle 6; E O'Flaherty 7, T O'Connor 6, J Kavanagh 7. Subs: A Smith 8 for O'Connor (41 mins), O Lyons 7 for Mac Lochlainn (61), R Sweeney 7 for Flanagan (61), G White 6 for Doyle (70), F Dowling 6 for Kavanagh (75), Doyle for E O'Flaherty (77), Flanagan for Kelly (86).

REF -- D Coldrick (Meath).

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