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'Electrifying' provincial finals have to stay, says buoyant Donegal manager Bonner

Donegal 1-24 Cavan 2-16

Kings of Ulster: Donegal’s Jamie Brennan scores his side’s opening goal despite Jason McLoughlin, goalkeeper Raymond Galligan and Padraig Faulkner’s attempts
Kings of Ulster: Donegal’s Jamie Brennan scores his side’s opening goal despite Jason McLoughlin, goalkeeper Raymond Galligan and Padraig Faulkner’s attempts
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

As referee Conor Lane blew his whistle to confirm Donegal's fifth Ulster title this decade, the first speckles of a green and gold invasion appeared at the corner of the Hill and the Eastern Terrace in Clones.

Stewards made a token attempt at stopping the first few fans, but a trickle became a flood of pure joy. Not, you sense, the lose-your-mind ecstasy that might have greeted a Cavan win of course, but Donegal never take their provincial crown for granted.

Back in 2011, 1-11 was enough for them to win their first Ulster title in 19 years. The goal was a Michael Murphy penalty. That was a grim enough arm wrestle of a game.

This match set the record for most scores in an Ulster final. As Donegal have evolved beyond recognition, so too has the game.

Those calling for the competition structures to change fail to recognise this.

Donegal manager Declan Bonner said: "Today is about celebrating retaining the Anglo Celt.

"They don't come easy. This is only the second time in our history that we have done it. We will enjoy tonight and get back to work on Wednesday and get ready for the Super 8s."

It may hearten or madden you to hear that Bonner is a fan of tradition and wants the provinces to be retained.

"We went long, long years without being in an Ulster final," he recalled.

"We have been fortunate to have been in eight of the last nine. I played in four Ulster finals on the trot, lost two and won two, and I have teams that have won and lost Ulster finals here.

"The atmosphere around Clones is really electrifying. I don't know about the other provincial Championships but there were big scenes down in Galway last weekend. They have to stay part of it."

Playing in their eighth final in nine years, Donegal are old hands at this lark.

They granted Gaoth Dobhair's youngster Odhran McFadden-Ferry his very first game at senior inter-county level and challenged him to snuff out Cavan playmaker Martin Reilly. He did.

Cavan tested Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton's kickouts by stringing four and sometimes five men across the full-forward line to make the restarts contested. Instead, Patton was now able to find his team-mates in advanced positions with Cavan's cover blown.

Hugh McFadden played as a deep-lying sweeper to cut out long ball into Dara McVeety but still had the legs to get forward and create chances and score a point himself.

Paddy McGrath picked up McVeety and held him scoreless in the first half and, with eight points between them at half-time, 0-13 to 0-5 to Donegal, the jig was up.

They got off to a great start, jumping into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead.

The one score to sum up this sequence came when a spilled ball looked to be dealt with by Niall Murray, but Donegal's Jamie Brennan came from behind to poke the ball along on the ground, send Murray sprawling with a shoulder and put Ryan McHugh  away for a point.

With most of the scores coming from late runs, Cavan's attack malfunctioned badly. They attempted to run the ball down the centre but Donegal are masters at getting three players around the ball carrier to strip possession.

A goal chance for either side arrived within the space of two minutes. First, McFadden played in Paddy McGrath for a rare sight on goal but he pulled it wide, then Cavan passed up a chance after a Gerard Smith shot fell short to Conor Rehill who was three yards from the line, but still his shot squirted wide.

It summed up a lacklustre Cavan display in the opening half. All the things that had worked for them in previous games were reduced to rubble. The romance that followed them into the decider was reminiscent of Fermanagh's journey to the showpiece last summer.

But Donegal have the footballers and the flinty attitude that they don't care. They are determined to make hay while they have talented underage structures ticking along nicely.

Cavan manager Mickey Graham said with a grimace afterwards: "We probably got off to a slow start, Donegal really started off on fire and came at us in numbers and really ran at us.

"They overrun us at times and it took us a while to settle into the game. It won't be for a few days until I get my head around it."

There was the hint of a brave Cavan fightback, led by Gearoid McKiernan in the second half when they trimmed the margin to six points.

However, Jamie Brennan fastened onto a piece of broken play to dodge past both Conor Moynagh and Jason McLoughlin to hammer home the decisive goal.

Cavan rallied with goals. Cian Mackey squared to fellow sub Conor Madden to fist home, and a second came when a brilliant Moynagh delivery found Stephen Murray to punch home.

Donegal, meanwhile, passed up three goalscoring chances to fist over points as the game wound down. It was that kind of evening for them.

Five points in it at the end was generous, according to Graham.

"We will not cover up anything. As I said, a lot of things we talked about didn't happen for us."

Before 2011, Donegal had a total of five Ulster titles. Michael Murphy has now captained them to five. They are a county transformed.

DONEGAL: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, S McMenamin; R McHugh 0-1, O McFadden-Ferry, EB Gallagher 0-1; H McFadden 0-1, J McGee 0-2; C Thompson 0-2, N O'Donnell 0-1, J Brennan 1-4; P McBrearty 0-5, 1f, M Murphy 0-4, 3f, M Langan 0-1

Subs: D ÓBaoill 0-1, for O'Donnell (43m), F McGlynn for McGee (54m), P Brennan for McFadden-Ferry (61m), O Gallen 0-1, for Thompson (63m), L McLoone for Langan (71m), C Ward for Murphy (74m)

CAVAN: R Galligan; J McLoughlin, P Faulkner, C Moynagh 0-1; M Reilly, K Clarke, C Rehill; Conor Brady 0-1, G McKiernan 0-6, 3f; O Kiernan, D McVeety 0-3, N Murray; Ciaran Brady, O Pierson 0-1, G Smith

Subs: S Murray 1-0, for N Murray (29m), C Mackey 0-1f, for Smith, C Madden 1-1, for Kiernan (both HT), T Galligan for C Brady (51m), C O'Reilly 0-1, for Pierson (54m), J Brady 0-1, for Rehill (70m)

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

Attendance: 28,780

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