Donegal fall short to Doyle inspired Down
Down 1-10 Donegal 1-9: These two teams could end up meeting in the Ulster Championship final later this season and, while both will appreciate there is plenty of work still to be done, this was a fairly decent start to Division 1 by both Down and Donegal.
Donegal should have got at least a draw from an entertaining clash at Pairc Esler. Substitute Dermot Molloy had a chance to level the game with a free from 40 metres in the fourth minute of stoppage time, but he was off target.
It was rough justice on a Donegal side who have not changed their style.
But, while they again kept plenty of men behind the ball, they broke with pace and exploited the open spaces during a cracking contest.
Manager Jim McGuinness believes his side will benefit a lot from playing in the top flight this season.
"I was disappointed with the last 10 minutes. We were on the back foot for long periods but, having worked our way back into the game and gone ahead, we didn't push on from there," he said.
"We were without a few key players and have a bit of work to do, but we will take a few positives from the game.
"We will use the league to develop a few things and push on from there. We will improve with more games," said McGuinness.
Donegal hit the front for the first time with a goal from Martin McElhinney after 51 minutes.
Down responded with four points, two of them from centre half-back and man of the match Liam Doyle.
"Donegal are a quality team and they are very difficult to break down.
"It was a game which could have gone either way, but I was happy with the way we came back after they got their goal," said Down manager James McCartan.
"We know we have a lot of work to do, but getting the two points could be very valuable come the end of the league."
Down had a superb start with three points in as many minutes and led by 1-3 to 0-1 after just seven minutes, when Doyle burst forward for a goal.
A brace of points from Mark McHugh saw Donegal reduce the margin to 1-5 to 0-6 at the interval.
The sides exchanged points after the restart and after Anthony Thompson had reduced the deficit to a point, Donegal hit the front when Martin Reilly and Neil Gallagher combined to send Martin McElhinney through for a goal which pushed Donegal into the lead for the first time after 51 minutes.
But they managed just one point after that as Down responded with four points in a row.
Doyle got two more frees, with Conor Garvey and Brannigan also finding their range to take scores.
Molloy reduced the deficit with a point from play, but then missed the chance to grab a draw in an exciting finish.
Man of the match: Liam Doyle (Down)
SCORERS - Down: L Doyle 1-4 (0-2fs), A Brannigan 0-2, B Coulter, C Garvey, A Carr (0-1f), D Gordon 0-1 each. Donegal: M McElhinney 1-0, M McHugh, P McBrearty (2f), S Griffin (2f) 0-2 each, D Molloy, K Lacey, A Thompson 0-1 each.
Down - B McVeigh 7; O Costello 7, D McCartan 7, K Quinn 6; A Brannigan 7, L Doyle 8, D Turley 7; P Turley 6, D Gordon 6; G McCartan 6, A Carr 6, M Poland 7; M Miskelly 6, C Laverty 6, B Coulter 6. Subs: R Brady 6 for Miskelly (32), C Garvey 7 for Coulter (49), N McParland 6 for Quinn (52), A Rogers 6 for Brannigan (52), E McCartan 6 for Poland (68).
Donegal - P Durkan 7; F McGlynn 7, N McGee 7, P McGrath 6; A Thompson 7, K Lacey 7, L MacLoone 6; R Kavanagh 6, N Gallagher 6; D Walsh 6, M McHugh 7, C Classon 6; R Bradley 6, P McBrearty 7, S Griffin 7. Subs: M McElhinney 7 for Classon (25), M Reilly 7 for Walsh (35), D Molloy 7 for Griffin (49), A Hanlon 6 for MacLoone (67).
Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan).