Murphy's law points way for Donegal glory
Donegal 2-11 Laois 0-16
NOT for the first time, Donegal enter a summer full of promise.
In the aftermath of yesterday's league success, manager Jim McGuinness and forward Colm McFadden were at pains to point out that the annexing of a league title was a step on what they hope will be a longer journey.
Back in 2007, Donegal won the league's top division, their first national title since the Sam Maguire in 1992. Hopes were high that the Donegal men could deliver. They didn't.
But yesterday's victory was carved from different stuff. Down to 14 men after 39 minutes when Adrian Hanlon picked up his second yellow card, they had to battle hard as Laois went about eating into a eight-point deficit.
Seven scores on the bounce brought resilient Laois to within touching distance -- substitute Donie Kingston hit four while another replacement, Paul Cahillane, hit three points on a day when his former club Celtic drew a blank in Ibrox.
But just as Donegal seemed ready to capitulate, with their defence creaking, their senior players did the necessary. McFadden pointed a pressure free to steady the ship.
Thirty seconds later Rory Kavanagh also found his range before Kevin Cassidy, who retired from inter-county football after last year's embarrassing defeat to Armagh in Crossmaglen before reconsidering, raided forward to put four points between the sides with seven minutes left on the clock.
"They have been on the back end of a hard couple of seasons but I would feel that I am in a good place with a lot of these players," McGuinness said afterwards. "Colm, Rory, Christy Toye and Kevin Cassidy all have over a hundred games played for Donegal, but they are around 26 years of age. That's a lot of experience to have in your locker and to still be relatively young."
Donegal started brighter and were 1-2 to 0-2 up after 19 minutes when Michael Murphy converted the most spectacular penalty Croke Park has seen in a long time. A clever flick across the square from Hanlon had given the Glenswilly man a sight of goal before he was felled by Darren Strong.
The award seemed generous but Murphy smashed it in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was a cagey affair in the opening 35 minutes. In truth, the game looked more like a rugby league match, with the mass of bodies lining up on the 45-metre line, with both sides effectively allowing each other possession in their own half.
After seeing MJ Tierney kick 10 frees in their league encounter, Donegal had learned their lesson, with the Parnells man reduced to attempts from beyond the '45'. But his kicking was off and he saw just seven minutes of the second half before he was called ashore.
Already a goal down at the break (1-5 to 0-5), the restart could hardly have gone any worse for Laois.
Murphy, switching between the half and full-forward lines, pointed an outrageous free from the touchline and another from play and, a few seconds later he was sending McFadden -- his former teacher in St Eunan's College, Letterkenny -- through on goal for a simple finish and suddenly Laois were eight points down.
Donegal were cruising, but things would change when Hanlon was dismissed and Tierney made way for Kingston. Laois showed admirable fight and landed those seven successive scores, with Kingston's physical presence causing Donegal problems.
"We always knew Donie would be a great man to have -- that didn't just become apparent to us today," manager Justin McNulty said. "That fact of the matter is that he's coming back from a long time out through injury. He's coming close to the form and fitness level needed to contend for a starting place."
Donegal were punch drunk at that stage before their experienced heads popped up. Laois came yet again and driven on by the likes of Colm Begley and Brendan Quigley, they outscored the UIster side by four points to one in the closing stages.
However, the finish line came just in time for Donegal, leaving McNulty to rue their poor start to the second half.
"It was two teams playing a very similar style and cancelling each other out in the first half. It opened up a good bit in the second half and I think it was quite exciting," said the Armagh man. "We fought back well after they started the second half with 60 seconds of mayhem.
"We're disappointed, but the guys have shown great character throughout this year. They've conceded sucker punches of goals at times and still come back from them. I think that's a true sign of their resilience.
"They've shown true courage to come back and if they keep fighting right to the bitter end, that's all I'll ask of them."
Both sides will be in Division 1 next season but of more immediate concern is their championship summer and for Donegal, it can't come quickly enough.
SCORERS -- Donegal: M Murphy (1f, 1 '45', 1-0 pen), C McFadden (1f) 1-3 each, K Cassidy, R Kavanagh, R Bradley, M McHugh, D Walsh 0-1 each. Laois: D Kingston 0-4 (1f), P Cahillane 0-3, R Munnelly, J O'Loughlin, N Donoher 0-2 each, C Begley, D Strong, MJ Tierney (1f) 0-1 each.
Donegal -- P Durcan 7; K Lacey 8, K Cassidy 8, F McGlynn 7; M Boyle 6, A Thompson 7, K Rafferty 6; R Kavanagh 7, M McElhinney 6; D Molloy 6, M McHugh 7, M Murphy 9; R Bradley 7, A Hanlon 5, C McFadden 8. Subs: N Gallagher 6 for Rafferty (43), D McLaughlin 6 for Molloy (53),D Walsh 7 for McElhinney (58).
Laois -- E Culliton 6; P O'Leary 7, M Timmons 7, D Booth 6; D Strong 7, S Julian 6, K Meaney 7; P Clancy 5, B Quigley 7; C Begley 8, J O'Loughlin 7, N Donoher 8; R Munnelly 7, B Sheehan 5, MJ Tierney 5. Subs: C Healy 6 for Booth (29), P Cahillane 8 for Clancy (h-t), D Kingston 8 for MJ Tierney (42), K Lillis for Sheehan (65).
Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo).