Michael Langan of Donegal in action against Pierce Laverty of Down during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round match between Down and Donegal at Páirc Esler in Newry, Down.
Michael Langan of Donegal in action against Pierce Laverty of Down during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round match between Down and Donegal at Páirc Esler in Newry, Down. 

Ulster SFC: Donegal overpower Down

Ulster Senior Football Championship Preliminary Round

DONEGAL 2-25 DOWN 1-12

By Gareth McCullough at Pairc Esler

Donegal set up a mouthwatering Ulster Championship last eight clash with Derry after sweeping aside the challenge of Down at Pairc Esler.

Goals from sub Jamie Brennan and Patrick McBrearty, one on each half, were the icing on the cake of a strong performance on every department from one of the favourites for the provincial title in Newry.

Both sides began the match as per programmes so that meant Donegal captain Michael Murphy, as expected, made his return from injury to take his place at number 14, but playing further out the field and man-marked by Gerard McGovern.

The visitors raced into a four-point lead with just six minutes on the clock as Peadar Mogan, two from Murphy, one a free, and Ryan McHugh all registered. In the same period, all Down had to show were a couple of wides and an effort dropped straight into the arms of Shaun Patton by Cory Quinn.

However, Paddy Tally’s men did open their account a minutes later when their star man in the first half, Barry O’Hagan, pointed after collecting a Liam Kerr pass.

In a lively encounter, there were plenty of attacking opportunities for both side, but Declan Bonner’s side were by far the more clinical in the opening period by comparison. McHugh was allowed space to make it 0-5 to 0-1 in the eleventh minute before O’Hagan hit successive points for Down to get the hosts to within two. Mogan and O’Hagan then traded scores to leave it 0-6 to 0-4 in Donegal’s favour by the first water break.

From a Down perspective, it was a case of them trying to stay within striking distanced of the Tir Chonaill men, but time and time again, they were being sized up and split apart by Donegal’s superb movement on and off the ball.

O’Hagan did reduce the deficit to the minimum on the resumption, but Patrick McBrearty and Man of the Match Ryan McHugh kept Donegal ticking over with two scores in a row. Kerr replied with a free at the other end, but a pair of Langan points either side of another from Niall O’Donnell put Donegal 0-11 to 0-6 to the goods with seven minutes of the first period remaining.

Despite Kerr replying once again for Down, the signs were ominous for the Mournemen when McBrearty and Ciaran Thompson edged Donegal even further in front. Donegal didn’t need a helping hand, but they were given one two minutes before half-time when Caolan Mooney miscontrolled a short kickout from Rory Burns and that allowed sub Jamie Brennan to race clear and plant the ball into the net for the first goal of the game.

The fact that Brennan had only come on for the injured Murphy four minutes prior only served to showcase the strength in depth Declan Bonner has at his disposal.

McBrearty added another point plus a free, either side O’Hagan’s placed ball after Stephen McMenamin has been shown a black card for a late tackle on Kerr.

That left it 1-15 to 0-8 at the break and Down knew they needed to start the second half quickly if they were to have any chance of pulling off a miraculous comeback.

While another Donegal first half sub, Eoin McHugh extended Donegal’s lead to 11 with the opening score of the second half, Down grabbed something of a lifeline four minutes in when Mooney got the better of Odhran McFadden Ferry to latch onto a clever Kerr pass to slot past Shaun Patton.

The home side could have found the net for the second time almost instantly when Mooney once again broke down the right flank before squaring to Ryan McEvoy, but the Kilcoo youngster saw his low drive stopped by an excellent reaction save from Patton.

While Langan edged Donegal another point clear, 1-17 to 1-8, on 41, but again Down got through for goal again three minutes later, but this time the normally cool O’Hagan was off target with his effort.

He was accurate from a free a minute later, but any slim hopes of a Down revival were extinguished when Gerard McGovern was sent off for the third time in the four games he has featured in this year for Down – this time for what appeared to be a late strike on Michael Langan after the whistle had already been blow by Referee Maurice Deegan for a free.

McHugh and McBrearty notched further scores either side of an O’Hagan reply, before Mogan and Brennan made it 1-21 to 1-10 on the hour mark. Seconds later, McBrearty got Donegal’s second goal when he got past Darren O’Hagan to slot past Burns and Bonner’s men were all but home and hosed.

There was still time for Patton to pull off a remarkable one-handed stop to claw out a close-range effort from Down sub Stephen McConville six minutes from time. Another Down replacement, James Guinness, pointed, while captain Darren O’Hagan got the last score of the game in stoppage time, but in between times Conor O’Donnell, Ethan O’Donnell, Mogan and Langan all registered for Donegal who rammed home their superiority in the end.

Scorers for Donegal: Patrick McBrearty (1-6, 2f), Jamie Brennan (1-1), Ryan McHugh (0-4), Michael Langan (0-4, 1f, 1’45), Peadar Mogan (0-3), Michael Murphy (0-2, 1f), Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Eoin McHugh (0-1), Conor O’Donnell (0-1), Ethan O’Donnell (0-1)

Scorers for Down: Caolan Mooney (1-0), Barry O’Hagan (0-8, 3f, 1Mark), Liam Kerr (0-2, 1f), James Guinness (0-1), Darren O’Hagan (0-1)

DONEGAL: Shaun Patton; Brendan McCole, Neil McGee, Stephen McMenamin; Ryan McHugh, Odhran McFadden Ferry, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Caolan McGonigle; Ciaran Thompson, Niall O’Donnell, Michael Langan; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Peadar Mogan

Subs: Eoin McHugh for McCole (25), Jamie Brennan for Murphy (29), Ethan O’Donnell for Thompson (51), Conor O’Donnell for N O’Donnell (56), Paul Brennan for McGee (63)

DOWN: Rory Burns; Peter Fegan, Gerard McGovern, Gerard Collins; Pierce Laverty, Darren O’Hagan, Daniel Guinness; Caolan Mooney, Ryan McEvoy; Liam Kerr, Ceilum Doherty, Barry O’Hagan; Conor McCrickard, Liam Middleton, Cory Quinn

Subs: Danny Savage for Middleton (41), Stephen McConville for McEvoy (41), James Guinness for Kerr (45), Cormac McCartan for Fegan (56), Kevin McKernan for McCrickard (59)

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)