DUBLIN MADE IT three wins from three in Division 1 tonight, but they were far from impressive for long spells of their five-point win over Donegal.
Dublin led by six half-time and it looked like it would be business as usual for the All-Ireland champions from that stage. Backed by the wind, Donegal outplayed the hosts in the second-half and gave a good account of themselves despite suffering a third straight defeat in the top flight.
The Ulster side had Dublin’s lead down to a point by the 60th minute, outscoring them by 0-10 to 0-4 after the break, and were boosted by the surprise return from injury of Michael Murphy off the bench minutes earlier.
But Dublin held their nerve and late scores from Paul Mannion, Eoghan O’Gara, Ciaran Reddin and Paddy Small on his debut were enough to seal the victory in front of 21,469 at Croke Park.
Paddy McBrearty was the best player on show and finished with seven points, six of them in the second-half including a few stunning scores from the flank.
With a host of big names to return into the fold, Jim Gavin won’t be overly worried with Dublin’s poor second-half showing and they finished well with the game on the line.
Stephen Cluxton, who made his National League debut for Dublin in 2002 against Donegal, completed his 99th appearance in the competition against the some opposition tonight.
Nathan Mullins was the only man from Dublin champions St Vincent’s to start this game and he lined out at midfield for his adopted county Donegal, but was surprisingly withdrawn after 27 minutes.
Dublin heavily pressed Donegal’s kick-outs, pushing as many as five players into the full-forward line to force Peter Boyle kick to the middle third.
In midfield Michael Darragh Macauley and Brian Fenton cleaned up the restarts, while Johnny Cooper and Eric Lowndes picked up the breaks behind him. Donegal managed to turn the tide at midfield after the break and it set the platform for their third-quarter revival.
Donegal played with Leo McLoone as a sweeper, Odhran MacNiallais at centre-forward and Paddy McBrearty partnering Jamie Brennan in the full-forward line.
The All-Ireland champions led by 0-11 to 0-5 after a first-half where they largely controlled the tempo of the game.
Donegal might have been closer at the interval as Brennan rattled the post when he was put through one-on-one by McBrearty, but Colm Basquel also blew a Dublin goal chance earlier in the half.
Niall Scully had 0-4 on the board in the opening 35 minutes, timing his runs in from the wing to perfection to get on the end of Dublin moves.
Dublin sleepwalked into the second-half as Donegal hit seven points within 14 minutes of the restart. After a quiet opening period, McBrearty shot to life with four scores to leave them 0-14 to 0-12 behind in the 53rd minute.
Murphy’s introduction seemed to spark Dublin into life. The Glenswilly man looked rusty and hit two scoreable frees wide as well as dropping one effort into Cluxton’s hands.
McBrearty landed a further beauty to leave Donegal within one in the 60th minute, but four late scores saw Dublin home.
Scorers for Dublin - Niall Scully 0-4, Colm Basquel 0-4 (0-1f), Ciaran Kilkenny 0-2, Paul Mannion 0-2 (0-1f), Brian Fenton 0-2, Eric Lowndes 0-1, Paddy Andrews 0-1, Ciaran Reddin 0-1, Paddy Small 0-1, Brian Howard 0-1, Eoghan O’Gara 0-1.
Scorers for Donegal - Paddy McBrearty 0-7 (0-4f), Ryan McHugh 0-3, Jamie Brennan 0-2, Leo McLoone 0-1, Stephen McBrearty 0-1, Ciaran Thompson 0-1.
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