Friday 22 September 2017

McBrearty class edges Donegal past Royals

Donegal 1-15 Meath 1-14 - Páirc Tailteann

Mark McHugh of Donegal in action against of Cilliian O'Sullivan of Meath during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3A match between Meath and Donegal at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile
Mark McHugh of Donegal in action against of Cilliian O'Sullivan of Meath during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3A match between Meath and Donegal at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Extra-time was looming when Patrick McBrearty stamped his class on the evening and steered Donegal into the next round of the qualifiers, where they will be bunched with Mayo, Cork and the losing Connacht finalist in a fortnight's time.

In unbearable tension he kicked a beautiful score off his left foot with Meath players crowding him in desperation. All evening they had kept coming back when Donegal looked to make a decisive break.

Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Shane McEntee of Meath. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Shane McEntee of Meath. Photo: Sportsfile

They had one more attack, and a claim for a free which the referee overlooked, and then the whistle sounded to end their summer.

Their management appeared unhappy not to have been given that late call but they were fortunate, if anything, with the calls on the night from Derek O'Mahoney. Donegal had a goal from Hugh McFadden disallowed, seemingly for a square ball violation, and Meath's last levelling point, a seventh pointed free from seven attempts from their excellent marksman Donal Lenihan, came from a dubious award in their favour.

Donegal were also furious when the referee signalled a free for Ryan McHugh ten minutes into the second half, then allowed an advantage that didn't accrue. When Donegal lost the ball a Meath counter-attack led to a levelling score for Shane McEntee.

In the end they survived and those misgivings will fade into the evening. It was not a vintage performance. They relied hugely on their captain Michael Murphy who scored 0-5, three from play, as he emptied himself around the middle of the field, covering ground, getting tackles in, leading the drive when they were struggling. At one point in the second half he ran 40m back towards his own goal to dispossess Brian Conlon, the Meath midfielder, and defuse the danger.

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher celebrates with his son Seanie, age 3, at the end of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3A match between Meath and Donegal at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher celebrates with his son Seanie, age 3, at the end of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3A match between Meath and Donegal at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Co Meath. Photo: Sportsfile

McBrearty improved greatly as the game went on and finished with four points from play. On an evening when it looked impossible to separate the teams, his intervention finally broke Meath's stubborn resistance.

There wasn't much of that quality in evidence. The teams were level on 10 different occasions, including half-time (0-7 apiece), and even when Donegal got what looked like a crucial break with Ryan McHugh's 60th-minute goal, it took only a minute for Meath to respond. O'Sullivan finished to the net after an initial effort from Pauric Harnan was saved by Mark McGinley.

Donegal's support, in tune with much of their team's performance, was subdued for long stretches. Only when McBrearty spun clear of Donal Keogan and kicked a neat point in the sunshine after 56 minutes did they break into sound. That score nudged Donegal 0-12 to 0-11 in front, the third in a row without reply, but James McEntee had the teams tied again a minute later.

Meath had the better of the midfield exchanges but depended heavily on frees for scores. O'Sullivan left the field on a black card for a foul on Mark McHugh five minutes from the end and Graham Reilly managed just one point, watched closely all evening by Paddy McGrath.

Donegal took off Ciaran Thompson in the second half with Bryan Menton and Conlon dominating the middle, but they had strong performances from Eoghan Bán Gallagher, who set up their goal, and Ryan McHugh, who finished it.

Despite the exciting final ten minutes, with two goals and a tight finish, the match was dour for long spells. Two points was the widest gap between the teams at any stage of the first half, with Donegal forging ahead before late scores from Keogan and a third free by Lenihan brought the home team level again.

Meath packed bodies into their own half and left Donegal's attack with little room to function. In the 32nd minute Eoin McHugh combined with Gallagher to create a goal chance but Conor McGill intercepted the danger. McGill made another outstanding saving block in the second half with Donegal threatening.

It had a drawn match written all over it until McBrearty stepped up for his match-winning score.

Scorers - Meath: D Lenihan 0-7 (0-7f), C O'Sullivan 1-1, D Keogan, R Ó Coileáin, B Menton, J McEntee, S McEntee, G Reilly 0-1. Donegal: P McBrearty 0-7 (0-3f), M Murphy 0-5 (0-2 fs), R McHugh 1-0, J McGee 0-2, F McGlynn 0-1.

Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keoghan, C McGill, M Burke; P Harnan, B Power, S McEntee; B Menton, B Conlon; R O Coileain, J McEntee, G Reilly; S Tobin, C O'Sullivan, D Lenihan. Subs: M Newman for Tobin (half time); D Tobin for S McEntee (61); E Wallace for O'Sullivan (BC 65).

Donegal: M McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Ward; R McHugh, F McGlynn, E Gallagher; J McGee, C Thompson; C Gillespie, M O'Reilly, E McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, H McFadden. Subs: M McElhinney for Thompson (42 mins); J Brennan for McFadden (48); K Lacey for O'Reilly (57); M McHugh for McGlynn (59).

Referee: D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).

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