Donegal were 9-point winners against Meath at the sun-kissed Ballybofey, although the scoreboard only tells half the story of a gripping contest.
The home team rattled over 1-8 to Meath’s 0-1 in the final quarter and for the third time this season Andy McEntee will rue squandering a lead to hand Declan Bonner a victory. Meath were undone by Donegal twice in Division 2 this term.
Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy were the chief tormenters, with the former kicking 1-6 in his 100th appearance for the county. Donegal skipper Murphy played like three men. He was literally here, there and everywhere in a man of the match showing. Oisin Gallen, a 19-year-old local from the Twin Towns, grabbed the second goal in injury time.
McBrearty smashed home the only goal of the first half on 25 minutes to establish a 1-6 to 0-5 lead for the hosts, screeching away from a Ciaran Thompson pass following Shaun Patton’s swift kick-out.
At half-time, Declan Bonner’s side had a 1-9 to 0-8 lead. Meath were keeping in touch with Bryan McMahon and Cillian O’Sullivan causing Donegal’s defence problems.
Donegal edged out to 1-11 to 0-9 in front with successive McBrearty points and it appeared as though the script was being adhered to. However, a disallowed Meath goal, when Gavin McCoy slapped in at the back post after Patton had made an excellent point-blank save from McMahon on 41 minutes, stirred the visitors.
Three minutes later, referee Conor Lane awarded Meath a penalty, which Donegal claimed was of the soft variety, when Daire O Baoill was adjudged to have fouled Donal Keogan’s progressive run.
Michael Newman scored the penalty and then back to back points from McMahon and Menton had Meath level at 1-11 apiece. Campion then put them in front.
However, it was Donegal who grasped the nettle from there and got the two points with McBrearty, the impressive McHugh, Jamie Brennan and Murphy all adding late points.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Stephen McMenamin, Neil McGee, Odhran McFadden-Ferry; Ryan McHugh (0-2), Paul Brennan, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Hugh McFadden, Jason McGee (0-1); Ciaran Thompson, Niall O’Donnell (0-1), Michael Langan (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (1-6, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-3, 45), Jamie Brennan (0-3).
Subs: Daire O Baoill for P Brennan (43), Eoin McHugh (0-1) and Oisin Gallen (1-1) for Thompson and O’Donnell (49), Frank McGlynn for McGee (61), Eamonn Doherty for McFadden-Ferry (68), Caolan Ward for McMenamin (70+1)
Meath: Andrew Colgan, Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Menton (0-2), Shane McEntee (0-1); Ethan Devine, Bryan McMahon (0-3), James McEntee (0-1); Cillian O’Sullivan (0-2), Michael Newman (1-2, 1f, 1-0 pen), James Conlon (0-1).
Subs: Shane Walsh for Conlon (43), Darragh Campion (0-1) for Devine (46), Sean Curran for Gallagher (black card, 57), Graham Reilly for B McMahon (63), Adam Flanagan for S McEntee (66), Thomas O’Reilly for O’Sullivan (70)
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).