Donegal dent Dublin's league hopes but unbeaten streak remains alive after tense draw
Donegal 2-5 Dublin 1-8
IN the end, two unbeaten records collided in Ballybofey – and both survived to tell the tale.
Dublin recovered from a four-point deficit, early in the second half, to draw with Donegal in an energy-sapping Allianz Football League Division 1 stalemate, watched by an estimated 10,000 who braved the wretched elements.
That makes it 32 league and championship games unbeaten for the All-Ireland champions, whose incredible streak will have extended beyond two years by the time they face Mayo in Croke Park next Saturday night.
But Jim Gavin might well wonder how his charges didn't actually claim the victory, having stormed back to lead by two points entering the closing minutes.
Instead, Ciarán Thompson and Michael Murphy nailed two pressure frees to force a draw that Donegal just about deserved. All of which means their own seven-year unbeaten streak at Fortress Ballybofey continues: this makes it 16 NFL and SFC games without defeat at the venue.
The first half followed a faintly surreal script. On a boggy MacCumhaill Park pitch, Donegal struck first (a towering Jason McGee effort after just 30 seconds) but then didn't score again for another 25 minutes.
In between, Dublin dominated possession and patiently probed for openings as the hosts frequently drew 14 men inside their own half.
They missed a few chances but still nailed five unanswered points as the game seemed to be slipping inexorably away from Donegal.
Shane Carthy, the St Vincent's version, opened their account and this was followed by points from Dean Rock (free), Ciarán Kilkenny, Conor McHugh and Niall Scully, who capitalised on a clever reverse pass by Brian Fenton.
Thompson's impressive left-footed free from the right wing finally broke the sequence, but it still required a crazy 60 seconds to turn this contest on its head.
Two Donegal goals, in the 33rd and 34th minutes, suddenly propelled them into a three-point interval lead and will surely have left Gavin exasperated by the harum-scarum defending that contributed to the scoreboard transformation.
Jason McGee struck first – eventually. He created the original opening with a run beyond Scully and through on goal. His first effort was too close to Stephen Cluxton, who palmed it away … but not to safety, and the ball was recycled to the far post, where James Brennan scuffed his chance before McGee this time finished decisively.
Dublin went short from the resultant kickout – and duly lost possession – with a couple of players involved before Ryan McHugh pounced, thereby maintaining his impressive goalscoring record against the Dubs.
Donegal's 2-2 to 0-5 lead stretched to four points within four minutes of the restart, thanks to a Murphy free.
This was the cue for Gavin to unleash his heavy artillery off the bench: Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh Macauley and Kevin McManamon all entered the fray, with Macauley and McManamon playing prominent roles in the Sky Blue fightback.
A brace of Rock frees cut the deficit in half, and then Macauley forced the turnover that would eventually lead to Scully's clinically dispatched 54th minute goal, with McManamon also playing a key role in the move.
Another sub, David Byrne, doubled Dublin's advantage before those two frees brought the hosts level once more, albeit Murphy's 72nd minute equaliser followed what appeared a harsh enough call.
Donegal held possession deep into stoppage time but couldn't engineer the shooting chance that might, just might, have ended Dublin's staggering run.
SCORERS - Donegal: J McGee 1-1, R McHugh 1-0, C Thompson, M Murphy 0-2f each. Dublin: N Scully 1-1, D Rock 0-3f, S Carthy, C Kilkenny, C McHugh, D Byrne 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Ward; R McHugh, P Brennan, E Gallagher; J McGee, M Murphy; F McGlynn, M Carroll, M O'Reilly; C Thompson, E McHugh, J Brennan. Subs: H McFadden for J Brennan (40), D O'Connor for P Brennan (46), E Doherty for Carroll (57), S McBrearty for E McHugh (63),
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; P McMahon, M Fitzsimons, E Lowndes; D Daly, J McCaffrey, J Small; B Fenton, C Reddin; S Carthy (St Vincent's), C Kilkenny, N Scully; D Rock, E O'Gara, C McHugh. Subs: P Flynn for Carthy (42), MD Macauley for Reddin (42), K McManamon for O'Gara (44), D Byrne for McCaffrey (57), J Whelan for McHugh (62), E Ó Conghaile for Daly (69).
REF: C Branagan (Down).