All Ireland SFC Qualifier: Donegal survive tough test
All Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round 2A
DONEGAL 0-12 LONGFORD 0-7
By Chris McNulty at Ballybofey
Donegal might have had five points to spare at the end, but the scoreline was a deception on a day when the Tir Chonaill men laboured to a qualifier win over Longford in Ballybofey.
It was just when the whistling nerves were threatening to become howls, Donegal shook their heads clear.
Three points in a three-minute spell, from Patrick McBrearty, Jamie Brennan and Eoin McHugh, from the 56 to 58th minutes managed to steer Donegal out of the quicksand.
Brennan polished off the move of the match after Karl Lacey and Michael Murphy had combined, the Bundoran man sweeping over to remove the weight from the shoulders.
McBrearty posted a brace of frees either end of a score from Robbie Smyth and Murphy’s free, with the game’s final kick, secured victory - and that was about as much as can be said about a game that had a staggering 33 wides (16 for Donegal, 17 for Longford).
When Martin McElhinney, a first-half substitute, drew Donegal level at 0-5 each 10 minutes into the second half, the decent Ballybofey attendance of 9,915 raised the decibel level.
It was the first time since the early moments that they were level and it came just moments after Michael Murphy landed a long-range free after drawing a foul from Darren Gallagher that earned the Longford man a black card.
Five minutes later, James McGivney was sent off, given a second yellow card for a foul on Eoghan Ban Gallagher, and McBrearty slammed over to put Donegal. It was the first time Donegal were in front and, although they didn’t have it their own way, they did enough - but only just.
Longford’s history in the qualifiers made them a potentially tricky opponent for Tir Chonaill with the midlanders’ boasting wins over the likes of Mayo, Derry and Down.
Denis Connerton’s team made a tame exit from this year’s Leinster Championship, falling to an 11-point loss to Laois before getting the term back on track when they defeated Louth 2-15 to 1-10.
Longford were 0-4 to 0-3 ahead at the break. McElhinney landed a point at the end of the first half to bring Donegal to within a point at the short whistle, but the home followers were growing restless and worried at that point.
Midfielder David McGivney kicked three frees for Longford in the opening period and Robbie Smyth landed another, but they were proving to be every bit as wasteful.
There were 22 minutes gone when, with Longford 0-3 to 0-1 ahead, James McGivney sailed a delightful pass over the head of Neil McGee and into Smyth, who would have had only goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley to beat had he made the catch. The outcome, however, saw the ball rebound off Smyth and wide - a let off, for sure, for the home side.
Michael Murphy’s sixth-minute free, posted from around 50 metres, cancelled out Smyth’s opener and Patrick McBrearty swept over a delicious effort in the 23rd minute but neither could rise the desired reaction.
Longford lost Daniel Mimnagh to a black card in the 26th minute and Gallagher, their other wing-forward suffered a similar fate six minutes into the second half. Gallagher dragged Murphy down and the Donegal skipper nailed the subsequent free.
Corner-back Diarmuid Masterson’s point, in the 50th minute, was Longford’s only point from play over the course of a contest that will be quickly forgotten.
Scorers for Donegal: Patrick McBrearty 0-5 (4fs), Michael Murphy 0-3f, Martin McElhinney 0-2, Jamie Brennan, Eoin McHugh 0-1 each
Scorers for Longford: David McGivney, Robbie Smyth 0-3 (3fs) each, Diarmuid Masterson 0-1.
DONEGAL: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Caolan Ward; Eoin McHugh, Ryan McHugh, Eoin Ban Gallagher; Michael Murphy, Jason McGee; Michael Carroll, Frank McGlynn, Michael Langan; Ciaran Thompson, Patrick McBrearty, Martin O’Reilly.
Subs: Martin McElhinney for Carroll (28), Hugh McFadden for J.McGee (49), Jamie Brennan for O’Reilly (53), Mark McHugh for McGlynn (55), Karl Lacey for Langan (56), Paul Brennan for Gallagher (65).
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Diarmuid Masterson, Padraig McCormack, Barry Gilleran; Donal McElligot, Michael Quinn, Dessie Reynolds; John Keegan, David McGivney; Daniel Mimnagh, James McGivney, Darren Gallagher; Robbie Smyth, Liam Connerton, Barry McKeon.
Subs: Conor Berry for Mimnagh (black card, 26), Larry Moran for Gallagher (black card, 41), Andrew Farrell for McKeon (65), Ronan McIntyre for D.McGivney (65), Joe Kelly for Connerton (70).
REFEREE: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).