A sad Donegal facing major rebuild after heavy defeat
Donegal 0-14 Galway 4-17
There was a moment here way out west on Saturday night that might capture how far Donegal have fallen out of the group that contest for Sam Maguire on an annual basis.
Substitute goalkeeper Peter Boyle - on as Mark Anthony McGinley tripped Tom Flynn in the first half and gave away a Liam Silke converted penalty - tried a short kick out to Karl Lacey.
It was sloppy and Lacey could not prevent it going over the line. Galway recycled the possession and up against the 13 men of Donegal, patiently got their opening with Danny Cummins lashing home their fourth goal.
It summed up Donegal's inability to defend and the decline of their major figures. Lacey will probably go now after this 15-point defeat. Frank McGlynn was taken off prior to the half-time break, and Michael Murphy was undeservedly sent to the line for a poor black card decision.
Having used up all his subs, two late black cards to Murphy and Martin McElhinney left Donegal manager Rory Gallagher two men down with half an hour to go. But it was long over before that as Galway helped themselves to three first half goals, Johnny Heaney on hand to flick two of them to the net.
Gallagher admitted that his side had been somewhat 'found out' in the Championship, having enjoyed an impressive National League.
"Absolutely. We haven't been at that level," he stated. "Hand on heart, I was very much aware of that. We had a team that served Donegal well and I knew it was the break-up of it. You don't just arrive and compete with the big guns."
Galway manager Kevin Walsh has managed a seriously impressive return to form after their limp showing in the Connacht decider loss to Roscommon, but was playing down a powerful performance that starred Damien Comer as a wrecking ball at full-forward, Sean Armstrong, Gareth Bradshaw and a wonderful return to Championship action with a late cameo by Michael Meehan.
"We came off the shoulder quite well and we were fairly clinical in the first half so the goal chances came and we took them," Walsh commented after.
By now, we know of all the well-documented Donegal departures that has led to this point.
Perhaps that is why Gallagher sought a three-year extension at the end of last year, knowing he has a job of work to convert a group of Ulster under-21 champions into established senior men.
How long will that job be, though?
"I'm not sure. The likes of Jason (McGee), Ciaran (Thompson) and Eoghan Ban (Gallagher) - they have to find their feet," he said.
The last time Donegal conceded three goals in the Championship was back in the 2013 quarter-final defeat to Mayo, a day that then-boss Jim McGuinness described as not so much managing a team, but managing a situation.
While Donegal fans mourn the loss of Eamonn McGee, Colm McFadden, Neil Gallagher and other superstars, it is the loss of other dedicated foot soldiers with plenty left to offer that has truly cost them, such as Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson and the still only 24-year-old Odhran MacNiallais.
Gallagher is curating a transition, but the Donegal clubs can get fidgety and a little trigger-happy over who is their manager. The Fermanagh man now knows there will be questions to answer and knives out.
"Whatever comes, comes. I'm around long enough now. That's the nature of it," he stated.
"I'm disappointed with today. I'm disappointed with the Tyrone defeat.
"We didn't play to the level we wanted, but I knew it was going to be difficult."
And he expects a few more to walk out through the exit door, most probably including fantastic servants Lacey and McGlynn.
"We know players will leave and there'll be a turnover. There will be a couple more. You can't continue to play since 2003 and 2004 and expect to still be playing at the top level in 2017 and 2018," added Gallagher.
Asked if he would continue himself, he answered, "We're after coming off a tough day. All we were thinking about was getting over the line and getting another week in the Championship. That's all the thoughts coming into it."
Galway now go on to face Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Donegal: MA McGinley; C Ward, N McGee, K Gillespie; E Ban Gallagher, F McGlynn, P McGrath; M Murphy 0-3, 3f, 1x'45', J McGee; E McHugh, R McHugh, M McHugh; P McBrearty 0-6, 2f, H McFadden, J Brennan.
Subs: P Boyle for McGinley BC (24), M Langan 0-1, for Brennan (36), M McElhinney 0-1 for McGlynn (36), K Lacey for Gillespie (h-t), C Thompson for McFadden (41), Martin O'Reilly 0-2 for E McHugh (41).
Galway: B Power; E Kerin, D Kyne, C Sweeney; G O'Donnell 0-2, G Bradshaw, L Silke 1-0, (pen); P Conroy 0-1, T Flynn; S Walsh 0-1, M Daly 0-1, J Heaney 2-2; S Armstrong 0-6, 4f, I Burke 0-1, D Comer 0-1. Subs: D Wynne for Sweeney BC (59), E Brannigan 0-2 for Walsh (60), D Cummins 1-0 for Daly (63), M Meehan for Comer (68), D Walsh for Bradshaw (72), C McDaid for O'Donnell (72)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).