Donegal push Dublin all the way as Jim Gavin's men make it three wins from three
Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15
A STRANGE kind of wonderful in Croke Park tonight, with Dublin pushed far harder than most people had expected before throw-in – and certainly at half-time when they led by six points.
Donegal had the All-Ireland champions seriously rattled at times during an intriguing second half, twice pulling back to within a point in this Division 1 clash watched by 21,469.
But, crucially, they never received the oxygen burst of a levelling score.
And, just as typically, Dublin dusted themselves down and kicked for home in the closing minutes by landing the last four points – via Paul Mannion and then a trio of auxiliary troops off the bench, Eoghan O'Gara, Ciaran Reddin and league debutant Paddy Small.
Both managers had started with late changes to their match programme teams – Declan Bonner made four whereas Jim Gavin confined his tinkering to a pair of switches in his inside line, Paul Mannion and Paddy Andrews promoted at the expense of Dean Rock and Paddy Andrews.
That left the All-Ireland champions without what you might classify a specialist freetaker. Not that it mattered, even as a number of players swapped deadball duties to mixed effect.
Donegal were first to draw blood, Ryan McHugh pointing inside 40 seconds after a move that briefly threatened more, Stephen Cluxton moving smartly off his line to stand up Paddy McBrearty.
It proved only a minor scratch that stirred the Sky Blue beast: trailing by 0-2 to 0-1, they embarked on an unanswered salvo of five points that set the agenda.
Fittingly, Niall Scully kickstarted that run by finishing off a slick move; it proved the first of four first half points as the Templeogue Synge Street tyro made hay cutting in from the right flank.
In the midst of this spell of dominance, Colm Basquel could have landed a first goal but his left-footed piledriver flashed over.
Donegal enjoyed a few sporadic moments of promise, encapsulated by points from Leo McLoone and McHugh again (quite brilliantly from the Cusack Stand wing).
Then, after McBrearty had trimmed the deficit to double-scores, the same player cleverly engineered an opening for Jamie Brennan … but after the lively attacker jinked inside Philly McMahon, his goal attempt crashed off the upright with Cluxton beaten.
Adding salt to Donegal wounds, Scully completed the first half scoring in injury time to make it 0-11 to 0-5.
When Brian Fenton galloped through, straight from the throw-in, for his second point, the gap was out to seven and you waited for Dublin to disappear out the gap.
Instead, their third-quarter play became increasingly infected to sloppiness and, gradually, point by point, Donegal's confidence grew.
Stephen McBrearty ignited Donegal's comeback with a 36th minute point and but it was his older brother Paddy who emerged as the central figure in their rousing fightback, landing six dazzling second half points, including four from play.
The visitors 'won' the third quarter 0-8 to 0-3, trimming the deficit to a solitary point.
Dublin restored some equilibrium with a Basquel brace, from a free and open play.
Donegal talisman Michael Murphy, returning earlier than expected from minor groin surgery, had entered the fray in between those two scores … but with his very first touch, he pulled a seemingly routine free wide of the near post.
Murphy finished with three wides in total but, while Donegal are left to lament what might have been after a third consecutive defeat, at least their key man is back on the pitch … with some ring-rust hopefully banished by tonight's cameo.
SCORERS - Dublin: N Scully, C Basquel (1f) 0-4 each, B Fenton, C Kilkenny, P Mannion (1f) 0-2 each, P Andrews, E Lowndes, B Howard, E O'Gara, C Reddin, P Small 0-1 each. Donegal: P McBrearty 0-7 (3f), R McHugh, J Brennan, S McBrearty 0-2 each, L McLoone, M McHugh 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton; E Lowndes, P McMahon, D Byrne; J McCarthy, J Cooper, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; N Scully, C Kilkenny, B Howard; P Mannion, P Andrews, C Basquel. Subs: E O'Gara for Andrews (46), C O'Sullivan for McMahon (46), D Rock for Macauley (65), C Reddin for Scully (72), P Small for Basquel (73).
DONEGAL: P Boyle; E Doherty, C Ward, E Gallagher; T McClenaghan, L McLoone, R McHugh; N Mullins, H McFadden; M McHugh, S McBrearty, C Thompson; P McBrearty, O Mac Niallais, J Brennan. Subs: C McGonigle for Mullins (27), N O'Donnell for Thompson (43), M Murphy for Mac Niallais (55), C McGinley for M McHugh (65), M O'Reilly for S McBrearty (69), P Brennan for R McHugh (72).
REF: J McQuillan (Cavan).