Result: Donegal 6-10 Leitrim 3-8
Donegal used a brilliant display by Conor Lynam, who annexed 4-5, and a tight marking defense to take the points against a Leitrim side that could only score three points in the second half.
The contest was step for step, blow for blow in the opening half, but a two goal outburst by man of the match Lynam to open the second half put the winners in control.
In a high scoring first half, both sides had periods of dominance which resulted in numerous great scores at both ends. End to end stuff with six goals over the half hour, three at each end.
Leitrim burst out the door with 2-1 in the first five minutes. Adrian Wynne had the first when Paddy Kelly set him up as he showed the burst of speed that he possesses.
Brian Connor had the second, but it had a few heads scratching as the ball went out through the net after his low shot.
Donegal reacted in the best way possible. Goals from Lynam and Tommy Moran were each side of a pair of points from Lynam, and had Donegal back in the game with the corner forward in sparkling form.
The sides split four points, but Leitrim also had two bona fide goal chances. Wynne was denied by a brave Brian Cuilinan, while Cian Maher’s point screamed over.
Again, Lynam added scores for Donegal to leave his side 2-6 to 2-3 ahead with nine minutes left in the half.
Leitrim reacted as the half ebbed and flowed. Two points from Nicky Joyce were followed by a Ronan O’Flaherty goal when he finished a three-player move that involved Kelly and Wynne.
The final hurrah of the half went to the winners. A Sean Kinahan point was followed by a moment of genius by Lynam. A long ball dropped into the square from Peter McNeilus with time ticking down, and the knacky full forward flicked it to the net with a sweet touch. It put his side into the lead for good.
Lynam extended the advantage with two further touches of class when he hit the back of the net twice in the first seven minutes of the second half to extend the advantage to 5-7 to 3-5. The first was a penalty when the defense had a chance to clear but thoughts went awry; the second when a long ball evaded the defender and the corner forward punished the indiscretions.
It was a full 16 minutes before Leitrim replied with a Maher score, but in the interim excellent defending by Dan Jackson, Mike Molloy and Steven Duffy all contributed to quell attacks by the losers.
The sides split six points as the half progressed, but the influence of Shane Minton, the active Moran and Ciaran Slattery all had telling factors.
Steven Cunningham put the final nail in the coffin with goal number six, and the game was finally over for an out of sorts Leitrim side.
Donegal had a number of excellent performances, with the highlight Lynam of course. Brian Cuilinan made a couple of good stops and also pulled a number of balls from the sky as the Leitrim drives failed to reach their destination. The full back line did very well, with all three winning their individual duels.
Granted Eoghan Carew did have to leave the contest at half time. Mike Molloy kicked a wonderful point, best of the day, while Duffy before he was black carded also had a host of positives. Shane Murrin came into the game in the second half, with Tommy Moran having his best game for a long while.
The full forward line was tremendous. PJ Flanagan covered a lot of ground with Steve Cunningham taking his scores well.
For Leitrim, Ronan O’Flaherty had good innings, Conor Skeffington battled throughout, Brian Connor (first half) and Paddy Kelly before he aggravated an ankle injury were winning the midfield exchanges. The forward line never got going in rhythm and has a lot of improving to do.
Leitrim: 1 Aiden Tansey, 2 Mike Creegan, 3 Ciaran Hughes, 4 Peter Fahey, 5 Cian Maher (0-2), 6 Ronan O’Flaherty, 7 Conor Skeffington, 8 Brian Connor (1-1), 9 Paddy Kelly, 10 Adrian Wynne (1-0), 11 Dave Donegan (0-1), 12 Brian Fahey, 13 Nicky Joyce (0-4), 14 Dan Doona, 15 Eoghan Carew.
Donegal: 1 Brian Cuilinan, 2 Brian Breslin, 3 Dan Jackson, 4 Brian Givney, 5 Mike Molloy (0-1), 6 Steven Duffy, 7 Ciaran Slattery, 8 Shane Murrin, 9 Sean Kinahan (0-2), 10 Peter McNellis, 11 Tommy Moran (1-1), 12 Mickey Annette, 13 Conor Lynam (4-5), 14 Steve Cunningham (1-1), 15 PJ Flanagan.
Man of the Match: Conor Lynam (Donegal).
Referee: John Fitzpatrick.