Up until the first water break, the county’s hurlers were well in charge of today’s Rackard Cup decider at Croke Park. A steady succession of points – the bulk of them frees from Shane Boland – saw us open up a six-point gap at the end of the first quarter.
From then on, though, it was underdogs Donegal who showed far more appetite for the fight and, in any national title decider, that kind of outlook is going to be decisive. It certainly was today and Donegal were very deserving winners at the finish.
By half-time the gap was down to three points, largely thanks to the game’s opening goal, one of three majors registered by the winners. It was a poor goal to give away from our perspective, as Boyle’s shot hadn’t much venom in it but it was deflected off the upright on ‘keeper Gerald Kelly’s near side and into the net.
Our lads really needed to grab this contest by the scruff of the neck after the break but, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to do this. Aside from Cathal Freeman, who bagged two inspirational second half points, we simply didn’t have the players who were able to stand tall when the game was there to be won.
Donegal, as it turned out, had quite a few. Declan Coulter, unerring from frees and handy enough from open play, kept the scoreboard ticking over for them and it was no real surprise when he converted a free to edge Donegal in front at the second water break.
That point was Donegal’s fifth score without reply in the second half and, heading into the final quarter, they now looked the likelier winners. But we battled back and, when Shane Boland pointed a free on 64 minutes, it ended a tense six-minute spell without a score for either side. It also put us back in front by a point.
It was then, though, that Donegal landed the two hammer blows that finished the contest and won the Rackard Cup for them. In truth, the first of the two goals they got in the 66th minute – bagged by Davin Flynn after a long ball in – would probably have won the title for them but the second one, lashed gleefully to the net by the burly Ritchie Ryan, made sure that the cup would be heading for the hills. Donegal won by 3-18 to 0-21 at the finish.
Hard luck to Derek Walsh and the lads today. Along with the footballers’ exploits, their run to Croke Park has helped to brighten up the last few weeks but it just wasn’t their day at HQ today. Instead it belonged to Donegal – congrats to them on their deserved Rackard Cup success.