Unbeaten Donegal seal their promotion while ensuring Kildare drop to Division Three

Jim McGuinness guides his native county straight back to top-flight football, after their relegation this time last year

National Football League, Division Two: Kildare 1-8 Donegal 0-17

On a fateful evening in the gloomy March rain, the still unbeaten Donegal sealed their promotion back to Division One while simultaneously ensuring the still-winless Kildare were sent in the opposite direction.

With the final round still to play, both teams might argue their fate has been sealed somewhat ahead of schedule. Either way, it ultimately marked yet another poor show from Kildare at their temporary home-from-home at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow.

It happily sees Jim McGuinness guide his native county straight back to top-flight football, in the first season of his second coming, after their relegation this time last year.

“It’s the first step for this group in many respects,” said McGuiness. “We wanted to get back to Division One, and I suppose from the very first day it was a major focus of the group.


“And delighted with the attitude, the effort. Still not the finished product, but happy with the second half there, moved the ball really well, kicked some good scores, so overall some nice progression through the national league, a very positive campaign for us.

“Our transitional game is starting to come to the fore there again, I was delighted to see that. But that’s a box ticked, a big box ticked for us, I said to the boys during the week I remember being in Croke Park in 1988, the first time Donegal ever played in Division One, and I remember that excitement as a child. It’s not something we take for granted, it’s very competitive but that’s where we want to be.”

Donegal hit 16 of their 17 points from play, next week’s final round against Meath a mere run-out now before the Division Two final showdown against Armagh on Easter Sunday.

For Kildare, the unceremonious drop to Division Three comes with the additional stress over their championship participation this summer. Glenn Ryan’s men may be on the opposite side of Dublin in the Leinster championship, but will now need to make that final to avoid seeing out the rest of the summer in the Tailteann Cup.

Up by two points at the break, Donegal slowly pressed on without much resistance, hitting three unanswered points from the start of the second half, as Paddy McBrearty and Daire Ó Baoill both chipped in for the first time.

A neatly constructed goal on 49 minutes briefly gave Kildare some hope, with Daniel Flynn passing off to Alex Beirne from close range, and he calmly palming home past Shaun Patton. That brought it back to a two-point game, 0-13 to 1-8.

Only Kildare didn’t score again, the 20-minute endgame drought the same as against Meath in round five.

“It was a brilliantly worked goal, got ourselves back, and we didn’t score after that,” conceded Ryan. “That’s disappointing, but it wasn’t through any lack of work rate. The lads battled and battled, and hopefully there is… certainly there will be good comes out of it, and hopefully we’ll see it in the championship.”

Kildare needed the win to have any chance of avoiding relegation (Louth’s goal-happy win over Fermanagh ensuring that), but for Ryan there seemed to be some consolation in the effort of his team, despite the unrewarding run: “But they have haven’t flinched, in any regard, and given us anything that they could. Especially tonight.”

In the end, Donegal boasted nine different scorers compared to Kildare’s three, which suitably summed up the contest too. Peadar Mogan shot five for Donegal in the number seven jersey, each as good as the next, with Michael Langan enjoying a productive evening with his three from midfield, even if afforded ample space to do so.

Acutely aware of what was at stake, Kildare needed to get off to a fast start, but it was Donegal who impressed in the early stages, with Ciaran Thompson forcing an early save from Mark Donellan before – on four minutes – Thompson split the posts from close range and with minimal fuss.

Conditions and visibility weren’t good to start, but did improve slightly, and the first half was lively. Kevin Feely got Kildare back level with a mark on five minutes, again their best player, and the first quarter remained close, even with Donegal handling and holding far more possession.

Mogan nudged Donegal back in front before Feely’s free levelled it again, after which Donegal started to stretch their legs a little more, Langan again making the most of generous space to score from distance, and Caolan McGonagle from close range.

Feely’s second free kept Kildare in touch, but it took them 22 minutes to get their first score from play, Feely setting up Beirne, which brought it back to 0-5 to 0-4. When Langan struck again from distance and with ease, promptly followed by Thompson’s second, Donegal further pressed their superiority.

It finished with Donegal convincing six-point winners, and Kildare still hoping for brighter days ahead.

KILDARE: M Donnellan; R Houlihan, M O’Grady, R Burke; P McDermott, E Doyle, J Sargent; A Masterson, K O’Callaghan; A Beirne (1-3), B Kelly, S Farrell (0-1); K Feely (0-4, two frees, two marks), D Flynn, N Kelly. Subs: L Killian for O’Callaghan (52 mins), P Woodgate for Kelly (55 mins), S O’Sullivan for Kelly (58 mins), B Byrne for Houlihan (59 mins), T Archbold for Sergant (69 mins)

DONEGAL: S Patton; M Curran, C Moore, A Doherty (0-1); R McHugh, C McGonagle (0-1), P Mogan (0-5); H McFaddan, M Langan (0-3); S O’Donnell, C Thompson (0-2), O Doherty (0-1); P McBrearty (0-1), O Gallen (0-1), D O’Baoill (0-2). Subs: J Brennan for McFadden (half-time), J McKelvey for O Doherty (53 mins), N O’Donnell for A Doherty (56 mins), L McGlynn for O’Baoill, R Gallagher for Thompson (both 66 mins).

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics