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silver lining Dublin warm up for championship battle with easy win over Donegal...but Cluxton mystery continues

Dublin 1-18 Donegal 1-14


Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Hugh McFadden, left, and Brendan McCole of Donegal

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Hugh McFadden, left, and Brendan McCole of Donegal

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Hugh McFadden, left, and Brendan McCole of Donegal

AND so ends the 2021 league, a bizarre instalment of the competition which concludes this year without conclusion.

Dublin beat Donegal in Breffni Park tonight by four points in what was effectively a pre-championship challenge match for the All-Ireland champions and one of their expected challengers.

With chances of a league final happening blown to smithereens by Kerry’s evisceration of Tyrone in Killarney, this game gave new meaning to the phrase ‘meaningless league match’.

Here, we had a semi-final without a final.

Indeed, the most significant stories of the day may arguably have been around some players who didn’t play, rather than those who did.

Michael Murphy was in Breffni Park in a watching capacity only. Stephen Cluxton, who hasn’t played since last year’s league final, wasn’t.

The mystery over his fitness/availability continues.

Murphy has two weeks to be fit for Down in Newry. Cluxton has a further week to get back for Dublin’s opener against Wexford or Wicklow.

This game was played at a pace that suggested both teams had bigger things on their minds.

Donegal, the great entertainers of Division 1 North this year, took a more restrictive approach to their latest attempt to beat Dublin.

In the first half, they dropped deep en masse. They clogged all the channels. Tracked every Dublin runner.

It worked to a degree. But their attempts to break quickly after turning Dublin over lacked the essential ingredient: a Dublin turnover.

Patience is a virtue Dublin have long since acquired. They are completely comfortable in their own skin prodding and probing, recycling possession and taking the percentage option.

In Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny, they have two forwards sufficiently powerful to make room for a shot in heavy traffic.

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For all their ability to contain Dublin early in the game, their plan suffered diminishing returns.

Dublin took the lead in the 26th and put more ground between themselves and Donegal from there until the end.

They were already two up when Paddy Small scored their goal.

On one of the few occasions Donegal left themselves open to a counter attack after Michael Langan was turned over, Costello took a pass from Eoin Murchan at an angle and headed straight for goal.

But he slipped it inside for Small, who had a far better angle, and calmly slotted the finish.

Without Murphy, Donegal lacked their captain’s ball-winning and creativity.

And other than Paddy McBrearty, who gave Mick Fitzsimons all manner and style of problems, they were without any real cutting edge up front.

They lost Ódhran McNeilis to injury in the first half too.

At the break, Dublin led by 1-8 to 0-7. With just two weeks until their championship opener and no league final to play for, it was open for debate how much Donegal really needed to press the issue in the second half.

As it happened, Dublin took it largely out of their hands.

Seán McMahon got up from corner-back to take a pass from Niall Scully to score the opening point of the second half.

A minute later, Brian Fenton swung over another from the ’45.

Within a minute, Kilkenny had extended Dublin’s led to 1-11 to 0-7 and effectively render the contest over.

Substitute Eoghan McGettigan came on and got 1-1 for Donegal. And though McBrearty was excellent in the second half, he did seem to twinge a muscle kicking a late shot into Evan Comerford’s hands.

It was all very forgettable. And given what lies ahead for both teams, Dublin and Donegal will turn the page quickly on this one.


Dublin: P Small 1-3 (0-1m), C Costello 0-6 (5f, 1 ‘45), C O’Callaghan 0-3, C Kilkenny 0-2, B Fenton, B Howard, A Byrne, S McMahon 0-1.

Donegal: P McBrearty 0-6 (2f, 1m), E McGettigan 1-1, C McGonagle, M Langan 0-2 each, B McCole, O McNeilis, N O’Donnell 0-1 each.

DUBLIN: E Comerford; M Fitzsimons, D Byrne, S McMahon; J McCarthy, B Howard, E Murchan; B Fenton, P Ó Ciofaidh Byrne; C Basquel, C Kilkenny, N Scully; P Small, C O’Callaghan, C Costello.

Subs: E Lowndes for Murchan (h-t), S Bugler for Basquel (50), T Lahiff for Ó Ciofaidh Byrne (53), A Byrne for Scully (53), P McMahon for Fitzsimons (61), C McHugh for Kilkenny (61), S Carthy for Small (67)

DONEGAL: S Patton; E McHugh, S McMenamin, B McCole; E O’Donnell, R McHugh, Ó McFadden Ferry; M Langan, C McGonagle; C Thompson, O McNeilis, N O’Donnell; P McBrearty, H McFadden, O Gallen.

Subs: C Ward for McMenamin (h-t), E McGettigan for Gallen (53), E Doherty for McFadden Ferry (53), J McGee for McFadden (57), D Ó Baoill for N O’Donnell (57), T McClenaghan for E McHugh (63)

REF: C Brannagan (Down)

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