Rebel Rendez-Vous

Note – I copied this here from http://marklawrensonmustbestopped.blogspot.ie/ 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!

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One response to this post.

  1. […] years ago, I looked ahead to the All-Ireland Quarter Final tie against Cork with a sense of trepidation.   Eight of the Donegal team that will likely start on Sunday started that day.  For Cork, as […]

    Reply

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