Stuttering Dubs show their fallibility
Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10
There were times when Dublin appeared set to cruise to victory and there were spells when they had reminders of their own mortality, a temporary chill passing through the blood of their supporters when Donegal smelled the possibility of recovery. It never materialised.
With the game deep in stoppage time and Donegal still breathing, a goal down, and two men up after successive Dublin dismissals, sub Paul Mannion produced a moment of sublime calm and composure to score the clinching goal.
It took 75 minutes to raise their only green flag but Dublin could have had a few more by then. Diarmuid Connolly had a glorious chance when put through by Brian Fenton after only 15 seconds but his shot was blocked by Donegal's goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley. In the 16th minute the excellent John Small released Connolly again; this time his shot swerved wide.
Connolly redeemed himself with two exceptional points in the first half, off either foot, but spoiled his day with a second yellow card 11 minutes into the second half after a loose tackle on Anthony Thompson.
Two minutes before his dismissal a Donegal break ended in a goal for Ryan McHugh, and a lifeline, reducing Dublin's lead which had stood at five points at the interval, and seven soon afterwards, down to three. The rest was never entirely predictable.
Dublin still looked too good to lose but they became embroiled in more controversy as Eoghan O'Gara was shown a straight red card in stoppage time, three minutes after coming on, and near the end Brian Fenton, who had a fine game, was dismissed on a black card.
Donegal pressed and grew in confidence after Connolly's dismissal. Each time Dublin seemed to have moved far enough ahead, Donegal kept clipping on scores to keep the prospect of an equalising goal alive. Michael Murphy, who kicked six frees, but did not register from play, pointed in the 55th minute to leave them only a goal adrift. Dublin sent on Darren Daly after Connolly's dismissal and took off Bernard Brogan. The second goal Donegal needed proved beyond them.
Some Dublin players shone when they had to. Kevin McManamon finished with three points, his two in the second half vital in keeping Donegal at bay. Mannion contributed 1-1, making a strong case for inclusion for the semi-final against Kerry in three weeks. But arguably their stand-out player was Ciaran Kilkenny who deputised for the injured James McCarthy and ran the show from half-back with intelligent and prolific use of the ball.
Philly McMahon and Jonny Cooper had scores to widen the Dublin lead to five points entering the final ten minutes but late frees from Murphy and Patrick McBrearty left a goal in it again with normal time almost up. Fenton picked out Mannion for a point and then stoppage time brought two more scores to Donegal, frees from McBrearty and Murphy, but not enough to save them. Ultimately they didn't have enough thrust up front.
When Donegal turned Dublin over two years ago they scored three goals. They managed one this time, with Eamonn McGee laying on the final pass, but mostly the Dublin goal was well protected. Anthony Thompson kicked Donegal's only score from play in the first half in the 33rd minute. Until then they had lived off scraps and scored only three times, entirely reliant on Murphy frees.
Thompson's score came from a hard scything run through the middle but for the majority of the half that channel was blocked off. When Donegal attempted to seek holes they were met with fierce physical resistance: hard hits and plenty of them, usually resulting in rushed shooting or turnovers.
Murphy freewheeled between full-forward and spells out the field, with McBrearty sitting in beside him but Donegal's finishing was poor and their combination play never clicked and they ran up eight wides.
Murphy levelled the teams at 0-2 a piece with a quarter of the match gone, raising some concerns for Dublin given their possession, but they were visibly dominant and patient and eventually the scores began to come. Kilkenny was involved in virtually every attack and repeatedly the ball moved quickly between Dublin hands as they waited for the opportune time to take a shot at the posts.
Donegal took off both midfielders, with Odhrán Mac Niallais hardly in the match. McHugh's goal and then Connolly's sending off changed the complexion of the match but it remained an uphill battle for Donegal. Some of their old guard - Colm McFadden was a late substitute - may have seen their last day in Croke Park. A time of transition lies ahead.
Dublin have ongoing issues with discipline but they remain the team to beat.
Scorers - Dublin: D Rock 0-5 (4f); P Mannion 1-1, K McManamon 0-3, D Connolly 0-2, C Kilkenny, P McMahon, P Andrews, J Cooper 0-1. Donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (6f); R McHugh 1-0; P McBrearty 0-3 (2f), A Thompson 0-1.
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, J Cooper, D Byrne; C Kilkenny, C O'Sullivan, J Small; B Fenton, MD Macauley; P Flynn, K McManamon, D Connolly; D Rock, P Andrews, B Brogan. Subs: D Daly for Brogan (48 mins); D Bastick for Macauley (53); P Mannion for Andrews (56); E O'Gara for McManamon (68); E Lowndes for Rock (73); M Fitzsimons for Fenton (75).
Donegal: M McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; R McHugh, K Lacey, F McGlynn; R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais;A Thompson, M McElhinney, E McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, M O'Reilly. Subs: C Gillespie for MacNiallais (h-t); L McCloone for Kavanagh (42); C Toye for Thomson (46); C Thompson for McElhinney (61); C McFadden for Lacey (71).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).
Sunday Indo Sport