By Peter Nolan
Donegal gained two badly needed points at the expense of longtime rivals Westmeath, 1-11 to 0-8, in a tightly contested Senior A matchup that never quite reached the expected heights Sunday at Gaelic Park.
The appearance of Brendan Devaney in the Donegal lineout was a major talking point, as the home county star has been at the center of a tug of war between the Donegal County team and the FAI. It was therefore somewhat surprising to see him in the Bronx, but there he was manning the full forward position for Donegal. His opposite number was P.J. Ward, who was so impressive in Westmeath’s opening victory versus Kerry.
It was Donegal that opened the scoring, with a free from Edmund Cleary two minutes from the throw-in. Westmeath and Ward weren’t long about scoring the equalizer, and in style. Ward hit a free, off the ground, from all of 50 yards, conjuring up images of Jimmy Keavney, Matt Connor and so many other practitioners of the rapidly disappearing art of the free kick.
Dave “Fisher” Fitzgerald followed with a point off a Ward set up and Westmeath supporters must have thought they were on for a replay of the Kerry match, when Fisher and Ward combined to give the Kingdom nightmares.
Donegal, naturally enough, had other ideas. Midfielders Paul Higgins and Patrick Walsh got a hold of the midfield with good help from roving corner forward Niall McCready and attack-minded center back Pat McGonigley.
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Cleary pointed twice and Devaney once as Donegal extended their lead to double scores, 0-4 to 0-2 after a quarter of an hour. The Leinster men soon drew level through a Ward free and center back Aiden Cumming’s fine long-range point.
The Donegal backs were doing a good job of frustrating Ward and Fisher. New York dual star Owen Cummins drew the job of marking Ward and at the end of the day Ward was held scoreless from play. Niall McCready took over when Cummins pulled up lame and he didn’t miss a beat.
Brian McDermott also did well and other than that early point Fisher was little in evidence. Donegal led 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval, but Westmeath came out strong at the restart. Brian McCabe was introduced and Brian Murphy moved to the middle of the park from his starting corner forward position.
Murphy, Garreth Baile, and Murphy again scored to draw Westmeath level and then ahead after 16 minutes of the second half. Cleary pointed from play before Kieran Keavney took a Martin Coll pass and reclaimed the lead for Donegal.
In a match this tight, a goal, if one came, was always going to be huge, and it was Donegal that got it. Devaney palmed to the net after a neat one-two with Cleary and Donegal led 1-9 to 0-8. Garreth Kelly’s point stretched the lead further, but Westmeath’s last gasp came when goalkeeper Eunan McIntyre went full stretch to stone Terry Rossiter and secure the two points for Donegal.
Man of the Match: Edmund Cleary.
Donegal: Eunan Doherty, Darren Rocks, Owen Cummins, Brian McDermott, Donal Breslin, Patrick McGonigley, Mark McNeil, Paul Higgins, Patrick Walsh, Garreth Kelly (0-1), Martin Coll, Kieran Keavney (0-1), Edmund Cleary (0-5), Brendan Devaney (1-4), Niall McCready.
Westmeath: Eoin Farrell, Peter Dalton, Tom Quinn, David Baile, Peader Reynolds, Aiden Canning (0-1), Michael Jackson, Dennis Connolly, Sam Yore, Terry Rossiter, Garreth Baile (0-1), Enda Henry (0-1), David Fitzgerald (0-1), P.J. Ward (0-2), Brian Murphy (0-2).