Saturday 29 April 2017

Byrne steps into breach to flatten Donegal

All-Ireland U-21 FC semi-final: Dublin 1-13 Donegal 0-9

Dublin’s Dan O’Brien solos the ball away from Donegal’s Jason McGee. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Dan O’Brien solos the ball away from Donegal’s Jason McGee. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The irony of it wasn't lost on Donegal manager Declan Bonner.

The U-21 championship is set to come to an end after the final at the end of this month when the grade will be switched to an U-20 competition, in a move designed by the GAA to ease the pressure on its elite young players.

However, for Bonner's group, it comes too late as his side went down at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday after a schedule that saw them win their Ulster title just five days before this clash.

In his post-match interview, Bonner was at pains to stress he wasn't trying to take away from Dublin's win and he acknowledged that Dessie Farrell's side were on top for almost the entire game.

However, after a provincial campaign that ran late after the postponement of the semi-finals due to bad weather, Bonner insisted his side went in to this game on the back foot.

And he laid the blame squarely at the door of the Ulster Council.

Dublin senior footballers Jack McCaffrey (L) and Johnny Cooper watch the action in Breffni Park. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Dublin senior footballers Jack McCaffrey (L) and Johnny Cooper watch the action in Breffni Park. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

"I think it's crazy, to be quite honest, that we had to turn around after an Ulster final in five days to play that match," Bonner said.

Unfair

"It's unfair on the players and everyone else involved. The Ulster council could have a good look at themselves and ask why this was the case and (why) there was no Plan B in place. Every other province had their two-week break before an All Ireland semi-final.

"And listen, we are not making excuses. It was a flat performance from our point of view, but the turnaround was just crazy, crazy stuff."

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan leaves the field after being shown the black card. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan leaves the field after being shown the black card. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

It might have been even more hectic for the members of Bonner's squad who are also involved with Donegal's senior side.

He explained that had Rory Gallagher's men won in Mayo and reached the league final, the county would have been forced to play that decider on Sunday in Croke Park, followed by the Ulster U-21 final the following Wednesday, as well as this All-Ireland semi-final, meaning some of his side could have been asked to play three top-class games in six days.

"There was absolutely nothing you could do (to get the game pushed back). We were just told 'that's it, just go and do it'," said Bonner.

"The situation could have been even worse because if Donegal had won in Mayo the previous week, the National League final would have been played last Sunday and we were told the Ulster final would've been on a Wednesday night and we would still have to have come in on Saturday.

"We got an extra day-and-a-half, or whatever it was, but it wasn't enough. It has just been a very busy schedule.

Donegal’s Stephen McMenamin grapples with Dublin’s Chris Sallier. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donegal’s Stephen McMenamin grapples with Dublin’s Chris Sallier. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"Winning Ulster, you'd like to have a night and enjoy it after all the hard work, but we couldn't.

"But as I say, fair play to Dublin, they had their homework done and they looked much fresher and are well marshalled under Dessie Farrell. They have a serious chance in that All-Ireland final."

Farrell agreed with the sentiment, insisting Donegal would need to be "superhuman" not to allow their calendar to affect them.

"Genuinely, I'm surprised at the margin here," he said, after steering Dublin to a fourth All-Ireland final appearance at this grade since 2010.

"Donegal were probably flat coming into this. Their schedule was hectic. They would want to be superhuman for that not to have an impact and that counted against them.

"But look, we can only do what we can do. And we're just happy to be in an All-Ireland final."

Dublin weren't without their own challenges. They went into the game as underdogs and things quickly turned sour for them when star man Con O'Callaghan picked up a black card in just the fourth minute.

Still, they started brightly and landed the first four points of the game, as Donegal looked heavy legged almost from the first whistle. They wouldn't score until Michael Langan pointed a free on 25 minutes.

Michael Carroll's point in first-half injury-time was their first from play and after a underwhelming first period Dublin led 0-5 to 0-2.

Donegal kicked the first two points of the half on the restart to cut the gap to one, but Dublin looked in control and their ability to defend in numbers and break at pace proved too much for Bonner's side.

Na Fianna's Aaron Byrne was the tormentor-in-chief, stepping into the breach in the absence of O'Callaghan as Dublin's leading man up front and causing endless problems for the Donegal defence.

Even before Sean McMahon found the net to make it 1-10 to 0-5 on 50 minutes, most of the 4,422 present felt the game was done.

"We were sort of setting up for them a little bit, even though they were coming from a distance," Farrell revealed afterwards.

"They hadn't made it to the (All-Ireland) semi-final (by the time Dublin won Leinster), but they looked the strongest team, so we kept a close eye on them.

"You just need to keep a solid defensive structure against them because they'll pop you open. They have really strong runners and are very organised at the back."

Now Dublin will move on to an All-Ireland final showdown in a fortnight's time against a Galway team who dismantled a hotly-tipped Kerry outfit.

"We struggled a little bit in the Leinster campaign. Good in patches, fits and starts. But look, we're over the moon to be in the final now and it's a great two weeks for those young fellas," said Farrell.

For Bonner there was more disappointment. Having brought this group to an All-Ireland minor final in 2014, they fell short at the penultimate hurdle here.

However, he insisted that the future was still bright for football in the county.

"There's no doubt about that, there are a number of very good players there," he said. "Some of those guys need a rest now. They need a couple for weeks off just to recharge the batteries. Some of them looked really tired out there, but the future of Donegal... they will be in the top number of teams in Ulster over the next decade."

SCORERS - Dublin: A Byrne 0-4 (2f), S McMahon 1-0, G O'Reilly, C Murphy 0-2 each, C Sallier, A McGowan, D Byrne, T Fox, C O'Callaghan (1f) 0-1 each.

Donegal: M Langan 0-4 (2f), N O'Donnell 0-2, M Carroll, S McBrearty, E O'Donnell 0-1 each.

Dublin: E Comerford; D Byrne, C O'Shea, E Murchan; C O'Callaghan, S McMahon, C Murphy; B Howard, A Foley; T Fox, A Byrne, G O'Reilly; D Gavin, C Basquel, D O'Brien. Subs: C Sallier for O'Callaghan (BC 4), A Elliot for Foley (23), D Spillane for Fox (37), A McGowan for O'Reilly (47), T O'Sullivan for Sallier (57), S Clayton for Basquel (60).

Donegal: D Rodgers; B McCole, S McMenamin, C Morrison; D O'Baoill, C Mulligan, E Ban Gallagher; J McGee, T McClenaghan; S McBrearty, M Kyle, M Carroll; J Brennan, L Connor, M Langan Subs: C Doherty for Kyle (15), N O'Donnell for McBrearty (24), E O'Donnell for Connor (37), R Carr for Mulligan (43), C McGonigle for McClenaghan (50), S McBrearty for O'Baoill (55).

Ref - J Bermingham (Cork).

Irish Independent

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