Archive for July, 2009

Rebel Rendez-Vous

Note – I copied this here from which I now dedicate to soccer.  All my GAA and Donegal posts now go on here.

So Donegal march on through this years Qualifiers. Last Saturday’s 1 point win over Galway marked the second week in a row where Donegal started as underdogs against teams that would have been ranked in the top 10 when the Championship began. Now they find themselves in an All-Ireland Quarter Final against Cork-the same team that knocked Donegal out at the same stage in 2006.
That day was a heart-breaker for me-I don’t think I’ll ever forget the names John Hayes (scorer of the 1st half penalty) and Ger Spillane (the centre-back who somewhat reluctantly took responsibility for kicking the winning point late in the 2nd half). Rather than dwell on what happened that day, I’ll try to look forward to this Sunday, where Donegal again start as underdogs (Cork are giving them 3 points) against a Cork team that hasn’t played since 5 July, when they barely overcame Limerick in the Munster Final-perhaps feeling that their Munster Final was played against Kerry several weeks earlier. Nonetheless, Cork will be favourites in my eyes as well, and that should suit Donegal just fine given recent history.

I was shocked when Donegal beat Derry. But I felt that having beaten Derry, Galway shouldn’t have held any fear, and Donegal started with purpose. There was quick and smart ball being played to the inside forwards, and the Galway full back line seemed quick to give away frees in scorablepositions. But, as the half wore on, Galway began to get top-not hard when you are able to win 100% possession at midfield and have (arguably) the finest array of forwards in the country. Having led for most of the half, Donegal went in level, and I feared for what awaited us in the 2nd half. My fears were realised when Galway continued their midfield dominance and were able to use their wing backs and half forwards to run us ragged when coming out of defence at speed. To their credit, Donegal stayed in touch, regained the momentum and were worth their victory in the end-indeed it could have been more comfortable had shots from McFadden (saved), Kavanagh (hit the bar) and Walsh (blazed wide) ended up in the back of the net. At this stage, any victory is a good one (I didn’t apply the same thinking to the Carlow and Clare wins), and I went home happy.

And so on to Croke Park (assuming U2 get their crap out in time for the GAA to lay a new pitch) this coming Sunday, where Donegal must again surprise me if they are to make their first Semi-Final in 6 years (indeed, this will be Donegal’s first visit to HQ since their 2007 League Final win over Mayo), and who would bet against them after recent results? Well, if my Paddy Power account hadn’t dwindled so alarmingly in the past few weeks, I probably would back against them (I always bet with my head, never my heart, so rarely will I back Donegal!), but would happily lose that bet if it meant we would advance to meet Tyrone (I don’t see Kildare doing it this weekend) in an all-Ulster Semi-Final (a rare enough site in the past few years!). To win, Donegal will either need to address the following deficiencies, or get extremely lucky.

Cork have one of the best midfield pairings in the country-they have done for some years now-since about the time they last met Donegal in CrokePark I’d say. Donegal on the other hand aren’t even treading water, with Kevin Cassidy (a half-back) and Brendan Boyle (a club player at best) filling in as best they can in the absence of (a) Neil Gallagher and Christy Toye; and (b) an apparent lack of anyone else qualified for the job. The absence of the aforementioned players is both infuriating and unlucky-Neil is suspended (by the manager) and Christy is injured-both gone for the remainder of this season it would appear-and possibly longer. Going into the rights and wrongs of Neil’s absence is somewhat pointless-all I will say is that his presence would be a good thing-and given what is at stake it would make sense if the issue was re-assessed. Christy’s injury has come at an awful time for him-he was arguably Donegal’s best player this season (even if John-Joe Doherty didn’t seem to think so), Donegal are on the best Championship run since 2006, and Neil’s suspension means that he is missed even more than would otherwise be the case. Somehow, Donegal have survived without either against one of better midfield pairings in the country in Fergal Doherty and Joe Diver of Derry, and made Galway look like world-beaters on Saturday evening. I don’t expect the trend to be reversed this weekend. Shorter kick-outs (a tactic I don’t recall being used againstGalway) or more help from the likes of Rory Kavanagh or Conall Dunne could be potential solutions, but if Donegal win more than 30% of ball at midfield it will be a surprise.

Donegal rely heavily of Michael Murphy an Colm McFadden for their scores-and mostly by winning and scoring frees-the lack of scores from play has been a concern, but this weekend Cork have the defenders to keep both quiet-the absence of Anthony Lynch would be a boost for Donegal, but there is always the chance Colm McFadden will revert to more regular form, so I’m not feeling too confident about our scoring power-which hasn’t been that frightening this far anyway. So, we will need others to step up-I would like to see David Walsh starting for this reason-he isn’t prolific scorer, but is more of a threat than Brian Roper, or Leo McLoone for that matter. Rory Kavangh has a pretty good goal scoring record and came close again last weekend, and let’s not forget that it was Kevin Cassidy who was among the goals against Derry. Goals win games-Donegal should know this-the majority of their Championship losses in recent years have come when they have conceded goals.

Watching Donegal last weekend reminded me of watching a game of rugby-the defensive style was reminiscent of ‘drift defence’-and it was largely effective. But if Donegal want to play 13 behind the ball, they need to modify their attacking style-Tyrone are a perfect example of how to play this system-attacking from defence as a unit and making good use of their defenders when doing so. Antrim showed last weekend that they can play this system as well-as evidenced by their excellent goal against Kerry-made and scored by their wing backs. Only once on Saturday do I recall the Donegalhalf backs getting that far forward in the attack, and it should have resulted in a score, if only Colm McFadden has passed to Barry Monaghaninstead of shooting wide. To be effective on defence again, Donegal will need to show the same tenacity in the tackle and get a degree of leniency from the referee (their play last weekend was by no means dirty, but given what I have witnessed recently, I was surprised that more frees weren’t given), but they also have to commit more bodies forward when they do manage to win turnovers.

As far as team selection goes, I figure there won’t be much in the way of changes. Based on last weekend’s performances, you would figure that LeoMcLoone and Brian Roper might do well to retain their places, with David Walsh pushing for inclusion. After Walsh, the names start to look a little underwhelming-Adrian Hanlon and Eoin Waide (last weekend’s other subs introduced in the forwards) lack experience and both look a little ‘light’ to say the least. That leaves us with Michael Hegarty, and, well, let’s not even go down the road. Our lack of scoring power from the bench also worries me-it would be nice if Brendan Devenney were fit enough to play some part (never thought I’d be writing those words!), because aside from maybe Stephen Griffen, there isn’t much available as far as I am aware.

I was pretty impressed with Cork in what I saw from them in both games against Kerry, but have had to check that opinion based on Kerry’s performances in the meantime. I also wouldn’t be too impressed with most of their forwards-especially their half forward line. So maybe Donegal will have an easier time defensively than was the case against either Derry or Galway, but without the ball and if they fail to make the most of their limited scoring chances, it could be another heartbreaker in Croker.

I really hope I’ve got most of that wrong.

Tír Chonaill Abú!


Down…but not out

Note – I copied this here from which I now dedicate to soccer.  All my GAA and Donegal posts now go on here.

Part 1

June 14 this year was probably my low point as a Donegal supporter. Losing to Antrim on your home ground in the Ulster Championship is bad enough, but it was as much the manner of the loss as the fact that we had lost to what was regarded as the worst team in Ulster at the time that left me feeling so deflated.

I remember texting one of the lads (on holiday in Italy) at half-time and saying that it felt like I was watching a McKenna Cup game in January-the performance and the atmosphere were unbelievably flat. It was essentially the same old, same old, with only 1 new face (Michael McGuire) in the starting line-up, and below par performances from some of our better players (Barry Dunnion and Kevin Cassidy among others). I expected a different story after the break-‘hair dryer’ treatment and a raft of changes would have been the order of the day-but no, one change, based on the late realisation that we didn’t need 6 defenders if Antrim were employing a sweeper (which they had done from the throw-in).

The 2nd half unfolded in nightmare fashion-the low key feeling continued, right up until when Anrim cut through us for a goal-where the stupidity of one player and the sloth of another combined to make us look like a Junior team. After that, Donegal started to rouse themsleves, but it was much too little, much too late and we were out of the Ulster Championship-an Ulster Championship where we were heavy favourites to win out and meet Tyrone in the Final-Donegal can never seem to take 1 game at a time any more.

Note-I posted the following on another site already, so I’m not plagiarising!

The Sunday Game focused on Donegal’s wides and the free awarded to Antrim at the death, but In reality, Donegal did not deserve to win for reasons that went beyond these 2 issues. The lack if intensity was shocking and the standard of play (shooting, passing etc) was awful.

It’s actually difficult to single out individuals to blame for the Antrim debacle-the general play was so poor that you could have easily justify 10 changes for our next game, but, as I suspected, this did not happen.

Donegal should have beaten Cork in an All-Ireland Quarter-Final less than 3 years ago. Cork have kicked on since then, improving every year, and are seen as All Ireland contenders this year. This is in stark contrast to Donegal, who cannot even contend for an Ulster title (and the current team/panel does not look like doing so anytime soon).

John Joe Doherty has presided over relegation and a 1st round Championship exit to a team that was probably ranked 9th in Ulster before yesterday. In addition, we had only 1 championship debutant in the starting 15, and our most consistent performer (IMHO) during the league (Toye) was on the bench yesterday. What John Joe has given us over Brian McIvor isn’t immediately obvious to me.

Congratulations to Antrim-they deserved victory and it has proved to be something of a springboard for them. Their attitude should serve as alession to our players, and the joy of their supporters after their Semi-Final victory over Cavan was a sight to behold-especially for a Donegal man starved of such scenes by his own county.

P.S. the commentator on The Sunday Game was some feckin’ eejit. I won’t go to the trouble of posting his name, but it wasn’t funny listening to his take on this game. That’s what happens when you reach rock bottom though-you are allocated commentators (and indeed referees!) of lower quality.

Part 2

The Qualifier draws have been kind to Donegal so far-home fixtures against Carlow and then Clare should have allowed the team to show us thatAntrim was a fluke (in performance terms at least), but, from what I have read and heard, that was not the case. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend either game due to other commitments (despite my disappointment at the Antrim result, I would have liked to have been there to see for myself were Donegal capable of turning things around), and so will say no more than that on those encounters.

And….I missed the Derry game! Just when hope appeared to be lost, and I had wagered moderately heavily on various outcomes that all involvedDerry winning, Donegal gave their long suffering supporters cause for hope with an extra-time victory that seemed unlikely to even the most optimistic supporters on Saturday afternoon. Their position appeared not to be helped by the absence of former captain and primary midfield ball-winner ‘Big Neil’ Gallagher and half-forward Ciaran Bonner through suspension from the panel for ‘disciplinary reasons’.

This is the first time in a long time I’ve missed 3 Donegal games in a row-I will right that wrong this Saturday in Sligo-where Donegal meet a Galway team that faces high expectations, but has yet failed to impress (me) in Connacht Championship clashes against Sligo and Mayo. Galway have fine forwards, but they all rarely seem to hit form together. Of course, Donegal will more than likely start the game with a patched up midfield (Christy Toye lost for the season through injury and Big Neil unlikely to return).

I don’t expect Donegal to win, but I’m a wee bit more optimistic than I was this time 7 days ago. Roll on Saturday.

Championship 2009 Part 1

Note – I copied this here from which I now dedicate to soccer.  All my GAA and Donegal posts now go on here.

Well all provincial champions are now decided, with no major surprises.
Tyrone and Dublin were favourites for their respective provinces at the start of the season, and Cork and Mayo’s wins are hardly that surprising. There was actually real drama in 3 of the 4 finals, with the Connacht final providing high drama in injury time at Pearse Stadium on Sunday. So what do we know now that we didn’t know at the start of May?

While Kildare put them up to it, Dublin proved they are still the team to beat in Leinster. I’m not one to give kudos to Dublin lightly, but getting the win after going a man down in the middle of the first half and an outstanding performance from Bernard Brogan were worthy of praise. However, I felt that Kildare did as much to lose the game as Dublin did to win it-Johnny Doyle’s missed free kicks and a propensity to play ‘suicide’ type passes that were hoovered up by the Dublin backs were 2 of the main reasons for Dublin’s victory. It was the type of game Brian Cullen was bound to thrive in-a lot of broken play and not much organised attacking-he was a weak link in the Dublin defence last year, and if he remains a starter (which I presume he will after Ger Brennan’s rush of blood), he will be a weakness again this year. Still, there are few teams left in this year’s championship that I would pick to beat Dublin at Croke Park, and so they are rightfully counted among the favourites-nothing much new there however.

My opinion of Cork has shifted dramatically given the events of the Munster Final, and Kerry’s games in the Qualifiers. I was mightily impressed with Cork’s displays against Kerry-they reminded me in no small way of Tyrone-attacking in waves as a team, huge commitment to the tackle and 50:50 ball and generally smart football. But, their struggles in the Munster Final against Limerick, and Kerry’s narrow and highly unimpressive wins over Longford and Sligo, have made me reconsider my opinion-we won’t really know if Cork are for real until they beat another ‘top’ team, and win a game in Croke Park-a ground that they haven’t fared so well on in recent years. The longish lay-off between the Munster Final and the All-Ireland Quarter Final may not be in their best interests either. Still, on their day, you have to like the look of their backs and midfielders-whether they have enough class or aggression in the forwards remains to be seen.

Tyrone won the Ulster title last Sunday at a canter-Antrim were beaten after about 20 minutes, and although they greatly improved over the course of the 2nd half, Tyrone were well able to trade points with them throughout and you never felt they were in any danger of succumbing to an upset. Since they allowed Armagh to come back at them in the first round, Tyrone have looked extremely focused and they have a fine squad of fit players-which looks ominous for the rest of the contenders. They have managed this without really ever getting out of 3rd gear-players like Stephen O’Neill and Brian Dooher have yet to fire on all cylinders and Enda McGinley has been carrying an injury. Still, they have so many players who are capable of contributing-witness the revival of Kevin Hughes and the re-invention of Owen Mulligan as a playmaker. Yes, Tyrone are well worth the favourites tag at this point, and it is really hard to see past them lifting the Sam Maguire again in September unless complacency and/or injuries get the better of them-and in saying that it appears that they may have the squad to weather the latter this year.

While last Sunday’s Connacht Final was not settled until Peader Gardiner’s coolly taken score deep in injury time, the reality was that it should have been over long before that moment. However, as ever with Mayo, you can take nothing for granted. I felt that they should have been favourites from the start, given Galway’s unimpressive performance against Sligo and Mayo’s demolition of Roscommon in their respective semi-finals. Galwayhave many fine forwards, but they never seem to hit form simultaneously-both Joyces (especially Nicky) gave fine performances last weekend, but Michael Meehan (his injury-time goal aside) and Sean Armtrong were relatively anonymous/ineffective for most of the contest. Add to that the fact that their defence should scare nobody bar their own supporters and see a team that doesn’t really look like All-Ireland material. With Mayo, impressive as they were at times on Sunday, like Cork, I feel we need to see more of them before we can say for sure whether they are the real deal-but even at this stage I would fancy them to beat any teams who didn’t win their provincial championships.

So there you have the provincial champions for 2009-and my 4 favourites for the title. Tyrone are clearly the pick of the bunch-I can’t really separate the other 3, and so I won’t bother doing so at this stage. If they win their forthcoming quarter-finals (opponents to be determined) we may know more-for now they still have a lot to prove.