McFadden seals historic double
LITTLE Maisie McFadden was oblivious to it, snuggled up, at three months old, in the safety of her father Colm's mighty arms while half of Donegal went wild around her.
Her daddy had just scored 0-6 as Donegal pulled off their historic first Ulster two-in-a-row (once again from the preliminary round) so inevitably there was a pitch invasion, complete with a smoking flare in Clones yesterday. Several other vignettes told the story of Donegal's marvellous football reinvention under Jim McGuinness.
There were still two minutes of injury-time left when Down manager James McCartan slipped off his earpiece and walked along the sideline to shake hands with his opposite number.
And tellingly, while the ground rocked with unforgettable on-pitch celebrations, Donegal's players reacted the least hysterically and left it to their manager to explain why it meant so much to them.
From party-boys to seasoned pros, Donegal's footballers have undergone a remarkable transformation under McGuinness.
"I went for the job three times and I didn't get it the first two times," he grinned. "In my heart, I used to look at other teams and think 'we're as good as them, technically, player for player, but we're not able to do it and we need to sort that out.' That's why I went for the job.
"This is the same group of players that were heavily criticised for a number of years.
"They've come round, won Ulster titles back-to-back, and a lot of players that were at the centre of that storm, criticised for their hunger and their application for Donegal, they're the boys leading the line now.
"Your life can take twists and turns. They could have ended up stepping off the panel or moving away, whereas I feel now they've rectified that and put their own stamp on their Donegal careers."
There endeth the lesson from McGuinness, whose players gave Down a salutary one out on the pitch.
The final scoreline doesn't reflect the fact that the Mournes threw down a very impressive first-half challenge.
But it was the ruthless manner in which Donegal then smothered them into submission and hit the turbo button that was most significant.
A team criticised for being ultra-defensive, they had 11 scorers, and 2-15 came from play. They also, thanks to a great Paul Durcan late save, maintained their record of conceding just two championship goals (both from penalties) in the last two summers.
Playing the Tir Chonaill men has become a bit like wrestling an octopus.
You can wrap up a lot of the tentacles for long periods but eventually some escape and the attacks come from more angles than you can stop.
Down burst out of the traps yesterday, playing with the sort of tenacity and energy that has become their opponents' trademark.
They looked like they were deliberately chasing goals and certainly rued missing three of them by half-time.
Conor Laverty almost got in early on, Donal O'Hare had a chance after 15 minutes and Ambrose Rodgers had another just before half-time that he put over the bar.
Donegal's Anthony Thompson missed a sitter himself after 23 minutes, and on the half-hour the reigning champions were still gasping for air.
Yet Down, with Brendan McArdle double-teaming well with Dan Gordon to make Michael Murphy peripheral, opened well and Rodgers helped them dominate the central diamond.
But then Donegal nabbed a goal against the run of play, scored by Leo McLoone after Ryan Bradley won a kickout and delivered the assist from a free. That goal vitally allowed them draw breath.
It helped them turn ends leading by a point (1-5 to 0-7) and you couldn't help wondering if Down had already shot all their bullets.
When they re-started without Benny Coulter, the place was agog.
McCartan had gambled on starting and finishing Coulter (not long recovered from a broken ankle) but the player felt he wouldn't last the full 70 minutes, despite Daniel Hughes (groin) failing a pre-match fitness test.
A point from Conor Laverty, who Donegal's packed defence shepherded to a safe distance far from goal yesterday, quickly levelled the game.
But, after a McFadden free, the match suddenly turned on one incident when super-sub Martin McElhinney forced a turnover from Kevin McKernan.
In one quick counter-attacking move he got the ball up to Murphy for his first (and only) score of the game and when Mark McHugh added a point from the next play, Donegal's blood was up and Down's immediately sank.
After establishing that three-point lead, champions Donegal turned the screw and their second goal came on 53 minutes when Murphy set up Frankie McGlynn, who was marvellous throughout.
Not even Coulter's reintroduction could rouse Down, who faded badly.
Subs McElhinney and Christy Toye helped Donegal reclaim midfield and McHugh and Bradley also did their usual ton of work, the latter forced off eventually with concussion after scoring a heroic point.
Once possession was established the scores flowed, allowing McFadden to roast Daniel McCartan, and the final 20 minutes was one-way traffic.
James McCartan accepted that missing so many first-half scores cost his side and that they will get knocked for such a dramatic fade-out.
"We made a few mistakes, pushed up, lost the ball and they hit us with sucker punches on the break, a couple of human errors.
"The perception will be that they were a lot fitter, racking up six or seven points there at the end to put a gloss on it but I wouldn't buy into that," he said as his side now face a difficult six-day turnaround against Tipperary.
Scorers -- Donegal: C McFadden 0-6 (3f), F McGlynn, L McLooney 1-0 each, R Bradley, M McHugh, M McElhinney, Declan Walsh 0-2 each, David Walsh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, D McLaughlin 0-1 each. Down: L Doyle 0-4 (2f), D O'Hara 0-2 (1f), D Hughes, A Brannigan, A Rodgers, K McKernan, C Laverty, E McCartan, C Maginn 0- 1 each.
Donegal -- P Durcan 8; N McGee 8, Declan Walsh 8, P McGrath 8; A Thompson 6, K Lacey 8, F McGlynn 9; R Bradley 9, R Kavanagh 7; David Walsh 6, P McBrearty 7, M McHugh 9; C McFadden 9, L McLoone 8, M Murphy 7 (Capt). Subs: M McElhinney 8 for David Walsh (h-t), C Toye 8 for McLoone (44), D McLaughlin 7 for Bradley (58).
Down -- B McVeigh 7; D McCartan 6, D Gordon 8, D O'Hagan 6; A Brannigan 6, B McArdle 7, A Carr 5; A Rodgers (capt) 8, K King 6; K McKernan 6, M Poland 5, L Doyle 7; B Coulter 6, D O'Hare 7, C Laverty 6. Subs: E McCartan 7 for Coulter (h-t), C Maginn 6 for Carr (42), D Hughes 5 for O'Hare (49), Coulter for McKernan (45).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan)