By Alan Foley
Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.
Yesterday in Letterkenny, though, it was Galway manager Pádraic Joyce who was the one shrugging his shoulders at Gaelic football’s latest epidemic –— timekeeping — having probably wondered if the clock was ever going to stop.
From seven down eight minutes into the second half, Galway had the slenderest of leads as the fifth of five minutes of injury time ticked over. Ciarán Thompson stood over a free to level it for Donegal, only to see his shot tail off and wide.
But, much like the contemporary theme, on we ticked and in the 78th minute, following a stoppage for an accidental collision involving Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Michael Murphy, Donegal’s talisman, stood on the other side with another free. With the last kick of an eventful contest, Murphy also saw his effort miss the target. There was a sense of disbelief among the home support. Galway had won.
Joyce wasn’t happy with the referee afterwards: “It was surprising that Murphy missed that kick at the end, you wouldn’t expect it from him. The referee said five minutes and there was eight played. Alright, there was a fella down, but it wasn’t our fault he was down. I know if someone goes down or whatever, that kind of stuff goes on but something needs to happen.
“It’s costing big games and lads are training all year. If we lost that game we were probably facing a relegation battle.”
Seven points down at 2-5 to 0-4 in the 43rd minute and facing into the wind, it looked as though Galway would be heading back down the N17 with nothing for their troubles.
However, they mustered goals from unlikely sources — with both corner-backs Johnny Heaney and Séan Kelly raising green flags as the visitors refused to surrender.
With the remnants of Storm Ciara still in the air, Donegal had concluded the first half with a 1-3 to 0-4 lead. There was little to signpost the drama which lay ahead.
The acceleration of Jamie Brennan inside was a key factor in the first half, with the corner-forward’s every involvement sending a wave of excitement throughout those in Sallaghgraine.
Brennan arrived late on the scene in the 16th minute to redirect a Murphy pass goalward, only for John Daly to block, although the Donegal skipper claimed vehemently that the ball had crossed it the line.
Two minutes later, Brennan marooned the Galway defence once more to get into the square and was upended.
McQuillan signaled for a penalty while Connor Gleeson, the Galway goalkeeper who committed the trip, was black-carded and sin-binned.
Ronan Ó Beoláin, his replacement,was introduced and McQuillan was politely reminded by the home support that Galway needed to take off an outfield player, which they did eventually as Finnian O Laoi made way.
Murphy, who had both missed and scored a penalty a week beforehand in Donegal’s 3-8 to 0-7 win over Meath in Navan, stood patiently. He smashed the penalty, almost four minutes after it had been awarded, under Ó Beoláin, who would keep his place for the remainder of the match.
Declan Bonner’s team, aided by the second half elements, were first to settle. Murphy drilled over a 45 before Brennan, again proving a handful, took an advanced mark and pointed. The visitors hadn’t made much of an indent after the break and were punished once more when Thompson took on a pass from Ryan McHugh and thumped it to the net after 43 minutes for his side’s second goal.
That made it Donegal 2-5 to 0-4 and the points secure. Or so it seemed.
Galway managed a goal within seconds and it came from an unlikely source with Heaney joining the attack to smash high into Shaun Patton’s net following a pass from Shane Walsh. Galway engineered a second goal on 53 minutes when Kelly jinked into space before tucking into the bottom corner of Patton’s goal and suddenly, the away team were 2-6 to 2-5 up. Their 2-2 without reply, when Donegal were down to 14 with Paul Brennan binned, was where the contest was won and lost.
“It’s not a case that Galway won the match; we handed it to them,” Bonner said afterwards. “We were seven points up and we should have kicked on. We didn’t and that’s the disappointing thing. Overall, we probably deserved to win. The last 20 or 25 minutes summed our performance up.”
Walsh, impressive throughout, scored four in all and Michael Daly’s point left Galway two up, although a man down when he was dismissed for a second yellow having felled Caolan Ward with a high challenge three minutes from time. Thompson cut that gap in half and as well as the two late wides, Donegal also had a point chalked off in the 70thminute for square ball against Murphy.
However, Galway, after coughing up a lead in Kerry eight nights’ beforehand, were not going to do it this time, no matter how long it ticked on.
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (1-3, (1-0 pen, 1f, 1 ’45, 1m), C Thompson (1-1, 1f), J Brennan (0-2 (, 1 mark), P Mogan (0-1).
Scorers for Galway: S Walsh (0-4, 2f), S Kelly, J Heaney (1-0 each), R Finnerty (0-2), Michael Daly, Damien Comer (0-1 each).
DONEGAL: S Patton; C Ward, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh, C O’Donnell, O McFadden-Ferry; C McGonagle, M Langan; E McHugh, P Mogan, P Brennan; C Thompson, M Murphy, J Brennan.
Subs: N O’Donnell for Mogan (35), A McClean for McGonagle (half-time), D Ó Baoill for E McHugh (55).
GALWAY: C Gleeson; S Kelly, S Mulkerrin, J Heaney; G O’Donnell, J Daly, C McDaid; Ronan Steede, C D’Arcy; F Ó Laoí, D Comer, M Daly; R Finnerty, S Walsh, M Boyle. Subs:
Subs: R Ó Beoláin for 22 (22), O Laoi for Gleeson (32), C Campbell for McDaid (35+3), A Varley for Steed (half-time), P Conroy for O Laoi (44).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).
IT MATTERED: Galway’s response to being 2-5 to 0-4 in arrears was impressive. They managed to get ahead before Donegal would score again, with 2-2 on the bounce to put themselves into a winning position.
GOOD DAY: The Galway supporters who made their way to Letterkenny would’ve left with a smile on their faces. Not only did their men win from being seven points down, their ladies trailed by five to overcome Donegal 3-12 to 4-5 in the curtain-raiser.
BAD DAY: Whatever time it was, Declan Bonner was aggrieved to see his team blow a seven-point lead and end up with nothing to show for their day’s work, whilst having two placed ball opportunities in injury-time to force at least a draw.
PHYSIO ROOM: Donegal hope to have Patrick McBrearty in contention for their next outing after his 10-week break in the United States, while Hugh McFadden should be available having shipped a heavy knock in Navan. Galway still have all but Ronan Steede to welcome back from the Corofin contingent.
SIDELINE SMARTS: With the sin-binning of goalkeeper Connor Gleeson forcing a substitution for Galway in the 22ndminute and the decision to leave Ronan Ó Beoláin in goal meaning another, don’t be surprised to see a clamor for the return to six subs sooner rather than later.
BEST ON SHOW: Shane Walsh was impressive and enjoyed a good duel with Eoghan Ban Gallagher, coming out on top with his four points – two of which came from play – vital in Galway’s victory.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Referee Joe McQuillan’s timekeeping was questioned by Padraig Joyce, the Galway manager, afterwards, although the issue is one that has popped up frequently and in more places that Letterkenny of late.
NEXT UP?: Donegal take on five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions at Croke Park on Saturday week, while Galway are down to take on Tyrone in Tuam the following day.
TALKING POINT: After their loss last week, talk of Galway joining Kerry as being Dublin’s nearest contenders might’ve been a little premature. However, results and guile like yesterday mean they’re certainly on the rise.