MASTERS TAKE ON DONEGAL
SLIGO DONEGAL 0- 8 0- 8
With both Sligo and Donegal Masters unbeaten after the opening rounds, it seemed something had to give. Ultimately, despite the fact that Sligo led by two points with six minutes to go, a draw was the clichéd fair result.
Ballymote pitch was in remarkably good order given the weather we’ve endured, but the rain during the game added to already difficult handling conditions.
The decent- sized crowd that turned up were treated to a tight and physical battle of wills rather than a free- scoring loose affair.
Much of the game was played in the middle third where challenges were plentiful and uncompromising. Donegal had the upper hand in the first half as they broke quickly following turnovers, capitalising on some long kicking by the home side on an evening more suited to tighter play.
Donegal flooded out from the back, but pressure from a well- organised Sligo defence kept easy chances to a minimum.
Time and again their dangerous inside line were pushed out. While Benny Cassidy, Paul McGonigle and Michael ‘ Sticky’ Ward all punished Sligo from frees, Paul McGonigle took a fine point from play. Paul Taylor registered Sligo’s opener with a great score from play, and his free meant Sligo were 0- 04 to 0- 02 down after 22 minutes. Sligo never panicked however. A knock to Mark Boland saw David Killoran revert to corner back with Paraic Doohan dropping to wingback and Michael Moyles coming into the half- forward line. Johnny Kenny threatened at all times and his point from play allied with another Taylor free saw them keep with last year’s Masters Shield winners going in at 0- 04 apiece at the break.
The second half saw no let- up in intensity; it actually increased. Every ball was contested fiercely. Adrian McColgan’s introduction to Donegal’s half- back line brought great pace to proceedings and an early break by him deserved a score. Donegal added another Paul McGonagle free before Benny Cassidy wriggled free to score a fine individual score from play to balance out two Paul Taylor frees. Unfortunately, Paul Taylor injured his quad in scoring a 40 metre free, and his free- taking and general play was a loss to the home side, especially as they were starting to enjoy a purple patch in possession terms. Johnny Kenny and Michael Moyles asked questions of the tight Donegal backs, with substitute Blair Foley relishing the scramble for loose ball. Moyles picked off two fine scores from the left, one following a sweeping move seeing him fed by Kenny. Sligo then squandered a few chances to forge further ahead.
Donegal never dropped their heads however, and they continued to take it to Sligo. The Sligo rear- guard dealt admirably with most attacks, before a well- worked Ger McGrenra point after a ’ 45.
With a point between the sides, Dermot Browne seemed to restore Sligo’s two- point advantage after a Fergal Kelly knock- down, but it was disallowed for a square ball.
In added time, Donegal’s Paul Gallagher found space on the right and his pace saw him drive toward the Sligo goal before offloading to Benny Cassidy.
For a brief moment a match- winning goal threatened but a challenge saw a 20m free awarded that Cassidy tapped over.
From the kick- out referee John Griffin blew the full- time whistle.
The game was a huge advert for the passion and dedication these players have for their counties and the competition itself.
Donegal organised themselves to be ready for throw- in at 7.20 pm on a Wednesday night.
Both sides threw themselves head- long in to a battle where conditions mitigated against a high- scoring affair.
Afterwards both sides joined for a photograph and shared tea and sandwiches in the dressing rooms.
Credit too to the Ballymote club for having the pitch in such good order at a time when so many pitches are closed.
Val Murray and his Donegal charges will feel they should have got more from their first- half possession while Sligo will rue the number of chances they had when two up to put the game to bed.
Next up for both sides are tricky encounters: Donegal host last year’s beaten All- Ireland finalists Cavan; Sligo host Galway, a team who won three- in- a- row from 2012 on. SLIGO: Gerry Dooner; Damien Kelly, Declan Cawley, Mark Boland; Morgan McCormack, David Durkin, David Killoran; Con O’Meara, Eamonn O’Hara; Paraic Doohan, Paul Taylor ( 0- 5, 5f), Johnny Kenny ( 0- 1); Dermot Browne, Fergal Kelly, Nigel Clancy. Subs: Michael Moyles ( 0- 2), Christy Walsh, Blair Foley, Terry Farrelly, Ronan Keane, Fintan Kennedy, Martin Nealon. DONEGAL: Martin Gillespie; Char- lie Doherty, Eamonn Doherty, John A. McMullan; Kerry Ryan, Sean McDaid, Michael McShane; David McShane, Charlie Gallagher; Paul McGonigle ( 0- 2,1f), Gerard McGrenra ( 0- 1), Stephen McGonigle; Benny Cassidy ( 0- 4,3f), Brian McLaughlin, Michael Ward ( 0- 1, f). Subs. used, Adrian McColgan, Charlie Bonner, Paul Gallagher.
Sligo full- back Declan Cawley in action.
Some of the club’s young hurlers on a trip to Croke Park.
Joe Murphy presenting the Shield to captain Tadhg Doggett.