Donegal’s misery continues as Down dump them out of Ulster championship

Goals from Liam Kerr and Pat Havern prove vital in front of a boisterous crowd at Pairc Esler

Ulster SFC quarter-final: Down 2-13 Donegal 1-11

Down piled further misery on Donegal as they moved into the Ulster SFC semi-finals. In front of a boisterous Pairc Esler, goals by Liam Kerr and Pat Havern, from a penalty, booked a ticket to a semi-final showdown with Armagh.

Donegal kicked 12 wides as they were handed their coats by a rejuvenated Down.

“We just went for it there,” Down man of the match Ryan Johnston said. “When we were under the cosh, it was great to have the crowd back. It’s great to have Newry back.”

It has been a 2023 from hell for Donegal, who saw Paddy Carr depart from the manager’s role after only 49 days during a League run that saw them relegated. Injuries to key players like Patrick McBrearty, Odhran McFadden-Ferry and Ryan McHugh followed the retirements of Michael Murphy and Neil McGee, ever-lengthening their odds.


Against a backdrop of a row over the running the Donegal GAA Academy that has seen an independent committee drafted in, many felt that Donegal surely had already experienced their nadir.

They were off and running here when Jason McGee fired to the net after just three minutes. The Cloughaneely man converted when Michael Langan’s delivery wasn’t dealt with and the midfielder pounced.

However, Liam Kerr found space in the 20th minute and slammed past Shaun Patton to bring Down level.

It was 1-4 apiece at the break, but Donegal – who lost Langan to a hamstring injury midway through the first half – could’ve been in front only for Niall Kane denying Conor O’Donnell who was fed by Caolan McGonagle.

“Frustration,” was how Aidan O’Rourke, the Donegal manager, described his emotion. “We didn’t play smartly in the game. Down played well, but we didn’t bring our A game and there is a lot of frustration in the dressing room. We felt a missed opportunity in the first half. We took our feet off the gas after the goal.

“We had 34 shots in the game. If you look at that return, it’s not good enough at this level. Between kicking wides and turnovers, we shot ourselves in the foot.”

The second-half began in whirlwind fashion. At one end, a superb block by Caolan Ward denied Daniel Guinness and at the other Caolan McColgan was thwarted by Daniel Magill.

Down landed a massive score 10 minutes into the second half when Havern converted a penalty after Johnston was fouled.

Donegal stayed in touch with Ciaran Thompson and Daire Ó Baoill scoring and they were within a point when sub Oisin Gallen found the range.

Down, though, had already eyed up their old foes. Any doubts were extinguished when Conor Poland and Andrew Gilmore popped over late scores.

“Armagh will be a massive task for us,” Johnston said. “A lot of those lads have been training since November. With the work we’ve put in, we’re delighted to get over the line.

“We were disappointed not to get promoted in the league this year. That’s done and dusted and we’ll be doing our best to get to the Ulster final now. We’re under no illusion about what’s ahead of us.”

Donegal are back to the drawing board, but they seem a side with a considerable absence of ink.

O’Rourke said: “It seems a long way away. We will have to do something different because what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked.”

Down: N Kane; P Laverty, A Doherty, S Annett; D Magill (0-1), N McParland, M Rooney; D Guinness (0-2), R McEvoy; C Doherty, R Johnston (0-3, 2m), L Kerr (1-0); D McAleenan, P Havern (1-3, 1pen, 3f), E Brannigan (0-1). Subs: C Francis for Annett (50), A Gilmore (0-2, 1f) for E Brannigan (53), S Johnston for Johnston (60), C Poland (0-1)for N McParland (65), G Collins for McAleenan (70).

Donegal: S Patton (0-1 ‘45); M Curran, B McCole, C Ward (0-1); C McColgan, S McMenamin, E Gallagher; C McGonagle, J McGee (1-1); D Ó Baoill (0-3), M Langan, C Thompson (0-2, 1f); H McFadden, J Brennan, C O’Donnell (0-2). Subs: L McGlynn for Langan (15), O Gallen (0-1) for McFadden (46), K Tobin for Ward (50), C O’Donnell for McMenamin (65), K Barrett for McGlynn (70).

Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).