Major win for minors sets up final clash with the Kingdom
Damian Dowds at Croke Park
Photos Evan Logan
Donegal will contest a first ever All-Ireland minor football final after their narrow but deserved win over Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday.
After a nervous-looking opening 20 minutes, Donegal trailed by 0-5 to 0-1, before John Campbell put his mark on the match.
The big Buncrana man, who had started the game at right half forward, was switched into full forward and hit a quickfire 1-2 that settled his team down and helped them to a 1-6 to 0-6 half time lead.
In a nip-and-tuck second half, Donegal just about managed to keep ahead of Dublin until the 45th minute when Jack Burke rippled the Donegal net after a quick free, and when Colm Basquel added a point moments later Dublin were 2 in front.
But, led by Stephen McBrearty in attack and Ciaran Gillespie in defence, the response from the men in gold and green was immense.
Lorcan Connor, who was double marked for much of the game, silenced the booing hill with a close range free and the majestic McBrearty hit a long range point from play after a massive turnover forced by Colm Kelly and Cian Mulligan deep in the Donegal defence.
McBrearty’s point drew the sides level with less than five minutes remaining, but it was Donegal who won the day when substitute Ethan O’Donnell fired over from close range after a Caolan McGonagle 45 had dropped just inches short.
Dublin had two long range frees that would have sealed a draw, but both dropped short and the roar that greeted the full time whistle from the vociferous Donegal support was louder than any this writer has ever heard at the conclusion of a minor match.
“The effort and work this group of players, and the management team, has put in over the last number of years would have to be seen to be believed,” team coach Sean Noonan, flushed and elated, said afterwards outside the Donegal dressing room under the Cusack Stand.
“I am so delighted that these players are getting their reward by being the first group to play for Donegal in an All-Ireland minor final.”
It hadn’t started well with Donegal slow to settle, their play pock-marked with uncharacteristic fumbles, fouls and footering.
Lorcan Connor and Jack Burke exchanged early points before Aaron Byrne somehow held off a strong challenge from Colm Kelly to point the Dubs ahead in the 6th minute.
With Dublin on top in midfield, and Donegal misfiring up front – they hit 4 wides in the first 13 minutes – the omens did not look good.
Colm Kavanagh jinked through to point for Dublin, and two points from team captain Con O’Callaghan – the latter briefly looking like a goal chance – gave the Metropolitans a 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
Enter Big Bad John.
“Tony [McClenaghan] played in that hanging ball perfectly, I just had to flick it to the net,” Campbell said afterwards of his 22nd minute punched goal.
Campbell’s physical presence and the goal sowed panic in the Dublin full back line. By the time they came around, the Buncrana man had fired over two more points.
“They didn’t know who was supposed to mark me,” he grinned.
“My markers were swapping after the goal. Caolan [McGonagle] caught the kickout and I got on it,” was how he described his first point.
Moments later, he intercepted a short kickout and had goal on his mind.
“The keeper was predictable as hell,” he said.
“I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get another goal, but when the defender caught me I just checked back and was happy to get the point.”
And when Lorcan Connor fired over, Donegal’s four point deficit had turned into a two point lead in the space of four minutes.
“Switching John Campbell to full forward was the most important move one we made in the course of the game,” Sean Noonan acknowledged afterwards.
“It really changed the game for us. It gave us a run of scores and a bit of momentum.”
Cian Mulligan, after an audacious dummy, and Stephen McBrearty after great work by Micheál Carroll, added further points before half time with the shell shocked Dubs mustering just a single point through Chris Sallier.
Nip and tuck
Donegal’s 1-6 to 0-6 half time lead was cut just 16 seconds into the second half when midfielder Eoghan McHugh charged forward to point for Dublin.
Niall Friel was dismissed on a black card five minutes into the second period, with Con O’Callaghan firing over two frees on either side of a fine Cian Mulligan effort as Dublin fought their way back.
Carn’s Danny Monagle, who had a tremendous game, then made his most crucial play when blocking a snapshot from Colm Kavanagh who had reacted quickest to a rebound off the posts.
Connor and McBrearty combined for the latter to score in the 41st minute to keep Donegal noses in front, but Sallier punished a wayward pass to respond with a point for the Dubs on 43 minutes before Burke fired to the net after a momentary lapse of concentration in the Donegal defence saw him pop up unmarked and easily picked out by Basquel’s quick free.
Basquel then fired inches over the bar to give Dublin a 1-11 to 1-9 lead in the 46th minute.
With Caolan McGonagle putting in the hard yards in midfield, and Tony McClenaghan driving forward as he had done all afternoon, Dublin were put on the back foot for the final quarter and were held scoreless by a determined Donegal defence.
Connor won and pointed his own free, and while a few Gavin McBride free kicks went a-begging, man-of-the-match McBrearty drew Donegal level in the 56th minute with a point from all of 40 metres.
Ethan O’Donnell fired over the winner in the 58th minute, and Donegal managed to keep the Dubs at bay to seal the win and 21 September date with Kerry in the All-Ireland minor final.
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