Donegal continue All-Ireland defence with victory over Laois
A WEEK is a long time in Donegal football, and so is 70 minutes for this felt like an eternity for their supporters. They were pushed all the way by a stubborn Laois resistance and it needed four quality points in the final few minutes from Colm McFadden, Paddy McBrearty, Neil McGee and Leo McCloone to ensure their passage to the quarter-finals.
They arrived determined to make amends and they will hope that this marks their championship rebirth. But it took some time to materialise and for a good stretch of the first half they made mistakes, over-hit their passes, made the wrong choices. They were not the Donegal we have come to know.
Laois must have been expecting Monaghan and fancying their prospects after winning in Wexford the previous weekend by the skin of their teeth.
They hardly anticipated having to face the All-Ireland champions determined to prove a fundamental point about their being.
The energy absent in Clones took some time to return to Jim McGuinness' men but the appetite was there from the start.
Laois were hoping to repeat the heroics of 2006 when they defeated the reigning All-Ireland champions, Tyrone, in the qualifiers, an achievement that remains unique. Munnelly, Padraig McMahon and Billy Sheehan are the only survivors.
Sheehan dropped back from the start to help out his defence and they invited Donegal on, but poor finishing and desperate Laois defence kept the scoring low.
It wasn't until the 12th minute that Colm McFadden broke the deadlock with the game's first score, a free which he earned himself. Munnelly scored for Laois after 17 minutes and they had a goal chance when Mark Timmons, their full back, broke through but shot poorly.
In the final 12 minutes of the half Donegal made the possession count and added points from David Walsh, which looked like it might have gone outside the post, a thunderbolt score from Michael Murphy, another free from McFadden and a beautiful finish by a lively Paddy McBrearty. They went off at half time to a roaring ovation from their faithful followers.
They had a five-point lead early in the second half but tended to lose possession heading up the field and two scores from Munnelly, one an excellent strike from play, raised Laois' hopes with 45 minutes played and just three between them.
Donegal still held a dominant grip on the match but on numerous times lost ball up in the Laois half of the field.
On another day they might have been punished. But Laois, some delightful scores by Munnelly and Donie Kingston aside, were unable to make them pay. Yet they remained sticky.
Points from Kingston and sub David Conway had them back to within a goal with 15 minutes left and Donegal just couldn't shake them off.
Nine minutes from time Munnelly's fourth score, a free, left only two between them but the late flurry of scores kept the All-Ireland champions on course. Right at the death Laois lost Conor Meredith to straight red card.
Scorers: Donegal - C McFadden 0-6 (0-4 fs); M Murphy 0-2 (0-1 f); P McBrearty 0-3; David Walsh, N McGee, L McLoone 0-1. Laois - R Munnelly 0-4 (0-2 fs); D Kingston 0-2; C Meredith, D Conway 0-1.
Donegal: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, A Thompson; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, P McGrath; R Kavanagh, N Gallagher; R Bradley, M Murphy, David Walsh; R McHugh, C McFadden, P McBrearty. Subs: K Lacey for McGrath (54 mins); M McElhinney for Bradley (66); L McCloone for David Walsh (68); D McLaughlin for Declan Walsh (70).
Laois: E Culliton; P Begley, M Timmons, P O'Leary; D Strong, K Lillis, P McMahon; P Clancy, J O'Loughlin; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, C Begley; C Meredith, D Kingston, E O'Carroll. Subs: C Boyle for Clancy (inj 25 mins); S Attride for O'Carroll (31); D Booth for P Begley (43); D Conway for O'Leary (52); C Kelly for Sheehan (68).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).