Preview: Another decision day for Donegal

All-Ireland SFC Round Three
Donegal v Clare
Saturday, Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, 3pm

By Michael McMullan

WHAT a difference a year can make. Just ask the people of Donegal.

Just over a year ago, they travelled to Clare for the opening game of the All-Ireland series with more questions than answers.

A round four draw against Galway in Letterkenny, on a day they kicked themselves out of it, was followed by three defeats that sent them to Division Two.

There was the upheaval of Paddy Carr being forced out as manager with Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley staying on to steer the ship.

There was a tame championship exit at the hands of Down in Páirc Esler before a relatively steady end.

The trip to Ennis was a no win game with some real concern they’d get nipped.

In the end, a vital Shaun Patton save kept heads above water enough for Donegal to swim to shore with both points.

There is a different level of despair in Donegal week. A much diluted version. Promotion and another title send the county into a frenzy.

When they coughed up possession in Cork, the Rebels were rampant on the run for three goals that left Donegal chasing their tail.

While Derry never recovered from a similar barrage against Armagh, Donegal fought back to level the game before Cork found enough to get by.

It will have poured water on the raging hot fire of hype in Donegal. But scrape away the errors and they’re still in a favourable spot this weekend.

Donegal can still finish as group leaders but they’ll need Tyrone to beat Cork, a game throwing in at the same time.

Then, it’s up to Donegal to beat Clare to take the group down to score difference. As it stands Donegal (+7) are better placed than Cork and Tyrone (both +5).

There are a few ifs but Donegal’s can’t entertain them. Top spot isn’t in their own hands but their end of the bargain is.

The two weeks away from the limelight should provide enough long grass to trudge through before putting their best foot forward.

Donegal will be without Jason McGee’s who was replaced in Páirc Uí Rinn. It will be balanced out with the loss of Darragh Bohannon for Clare.

Also for Donegal, they’ve got more minutes into Eoghan Bán Gallagher with Niall O’Donnell continuing to get plenty of action after missing much of the season.

And there is a return for Carndonagh’s Conor O’Donnell to the bench having not featured since the Monaghan game at the heel of 2023. His 3-34 tally form play over the past two seasons will be a boost to the camp.

They’ll have been able to fully hone in on the errors in Cork. They were more flaws than a system malfunction. Plus, John Cleary’s side are no bad outfit.

After losing three games, they’ve been the epitome of consistency since.

For Donegal, they’ll need to take on board Clare’s brave brand of football that, on another day, could well have toppled Kerry in the Munster final.

They were always underdogs but have never fully got the credit for the progress they’ve made after losing manager Colm Collins and a raft of experienced heads, at the end of last season.

In Aaron Griffin, they’ve one of the top forwards in the country with a consistent scoring return. That’s before you throw in Emmet McMahon and Ciarán Downes. They’ve Dermot Coughlan who gave Gavin White plenty to think about.

Donegal’s blueprint has been based around narrow defending to limit goal chances. Brendan McCole is tasked with the dangerman with everyone else moving in tandem.

Caolan McGonagle is the heart of their defence with the positional sense to allow Ryan McHugh and Peadar Mogan to attack. Shane O’Donnell can pop up anywhere in that middle third, lending a hand wherever there is a spare spade.

Their attack has been based around Oisín Gallen with Jamie Brennan coming off the bench.

Patrick McBrearty was the big plus from Cork. After being in and out of the team, the skipper marked his 150th senior appearance with a tally of 0-7.

If Donegal can get Conor O’Donnell close to match pace, he might be a useful addition in the latter stages.

It won’t be the end of the world if Donegal don’t finish top but a second defeat would be hard to stomach. It would leave the questions about pouring so much into the Ulster title bid coming out of the woodwork.

There were more questions this time last year in the Donegal camp. The errors of Cork are easily enough tweaked and it will make them a dangerous animal in Castlebar this weekend.

It’s another day of decisions for Donegal and they’ll have to step up to the plate with the business end looming. Jim won’t allow anything else.


2023 SFC: Clare 0-9 Donegal 0-14
DONEGAL turned in a competent second-half showing to overcome Clare in Ennis.
It might have been different following an awkward opening 35 minutes, when Shaun Patton made a vital save from Keelan Sexton, which would have put Clare six in front.
However, Donegal’s quality started to shine through the longer the game went on with Ciaran Thompson and Oisin Gallen ending up with four points apiece.

Clare: S Ryan; R Lanigan, C Brennan, C Rouine; C Russell, J Malone, C O’Dea; C O’Connor, D O’Neill; D Walsh, E McMahon (0-2, 1f), P Lillis (0-2); E Cleary (0-2f), K Sexton (0-1), P Collins
Subs: D Bohannon (0-1) for Collins, A Griffin (0-1) for O’Connor, B McNamara for O’Neill, I Ugwueru for Walsh, M McInerney for O’Dea

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, JR Molloy; C Ward, EB Gallagher (0-1), O Doherty; C McGonagle (0-2), R O’Donnell (0-1), D Ó Baoill, J Brennan, C Thompson 0-4), O Gallen (0-4), H McFadden (0-1)
Subs: J McGee for Molloy, C McColgan for Ward, L McGlynn (0-1) for C O’Donnell, M O’Reilly for O Doherty

2023 Clare 0-9 Donegal 0-14 – All-Ireland SFC
2019 Clare 0-13 Donegal 0-16 – NFL
2009 Donegal 1-13 Clare 1-7 – All-Ireland SFC
2006 Clare 0-4 Donegal 1-9 – NFL
2004 Donegal 0-12 Cork 2-4 NFL


Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 4-14
Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6
Donegal 1-20 Cork 2-6
Cavan 0-12 Donegal 0-13
Donegal 2-16 Fermanagh 0-8
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15
Kildare 1-8 Donegal 0-17
Donegal 1-18 Meath 1-10
Donegal 0-15 Armagh 0-14
Donegal 4-11 Derry 0-16
Donegal 0-18 Tyrone 0-16
Donegal 0-20 Armagh 0-20 (6-5 on pens)
Donegal 0-21 Tyrone 0-14
Cork 3-9 Donegal 0-16

Cork 2-14 Clare 0-8
Clare 3-18 Waterford 1-7
Clare 0-9 Sligo 1-5
Westmeath 1-11 Clare 0-13
Offaly 1-12 Clare 2-10
Clare 2-5 Wicklow 0-8
Limerick 0-14 Clare 1-16
Clare 0-15 Antrim 0-12
Down 3-15 Clare 1-10
Waterford 1-9 Clare 2-20
Clare 1-13 Kerry 0-23
Cork 1-13 Clare 1-11
Tyrone 3-15 Clare 0-10


Oisín Gallen 4-60 (27f, 2-0 pen, 5m, 1 45)
Patrick McBrearty 1-47 (32f)
Dáire Ó Baoill 4-13
Emmet McMahon 1-37 (28f)
Aaron Griffin 2-29 (1f)
Ciarán Downes 1-27 (13f, 4 45)

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