Why Stop Now?

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, I expected to be drawn against Cork, but also had a sneaky suspicion it would be the Lillywhites. It should be an interesting game given that both teams tend to have similar modus operandi – slow starts, strong finishes, goals at key times, dodgy penalties and the rub of the green against Derry. Bookies have already made Kildare strong enough favourites at 8/13, and I have to say I am a little bemused by how much credit this team gets given they have won nothing in recent years and failed to beat 14 man Dublin in the Leinster final. Kildare have just beaten Derry by 6 points after Donegal beat Derry by the same margin, so why are Kildare favoured at all?

Donegal of course have one of the meanest defences in the country and held Kildare to 1-5 when the sides met in Letterkenny in February. In addition, they have held all opponents to single digit scores (aside from a late goal conceded via a penalty rebound to Cavan) in the Ulster Championship. Ok, Antrim and Cavan are not serious competition, but the system appears to be working. Donegal have also managed to score at least 1 goal in each of their 4 Championship games to date, scoring 6 in total. Kildare have also managed 6 goals, with 3 coming in a single game (their qualifier win over Laois) in their 6 games to date. Average scoring sees Kildare ahead by around 2.5 points per game, but average margin of victory is dead level at 6 points, and indication of their defensive superiority. Other than their opening game against Wicklow, Kildare have let all opponents hit double scores, although 2 out of the other 5 times, it was only 10 points allowed, which is reasonable given that the opposition was Laois and Meath (who would rank ahead of Antrim and Cavan I guess). So, what does this tell us? Nothing conclusive I fear! But, I do think that (a) Donegal will do very well to hold Kildare to a single digit score; and (b) Donegal are good value to score at least 1 goal.

Stats wise, Donegal have been 2nd best against both Tyrone and Derry. Scores not stats win games, but they are a worrying indicator. The one thing that concerns me most is not possession and midfield, but fouls conceded. In John Doyle, Kildare have someone who is an ace free-taker, but also someone who is very good at winning frees (just saying…), so Donegal will need to be smart as to when and where they foul (they’ve done a good job in this respect to date). It’s not been given a lot of attention to date, but Donegal’s propensity to foul could be a focus now that we’re at the business end of the Championship where games could be subject to ‘higher’ standards of refereeing….

Like their defeat at headquarters against Cork 2 years ago, how Donegal cope with Kildare’s ability to get scores from their defenders could be a key to the game. When the sides met in Letterkenny earlier this year, it was Kildare full back Mick Foley who popped up to get the equalising goal. Against Meath in their 2nd round qualifier, Emmet Bolton, lining out at wing back, got Kildare’s 2nd and decisive goal. Mark McHugh and Ryan Bradley will employed as auxiliary defenders and should help guard against this sort of threat, but as Derry showed in the Ulster Final, Donegal are venerable to backs who can shoot. But, Donegal themselves have shown they they can use their defenders to good effect in attack. Anthony Thompson scored 2 fine points in the Ulster Final; Kevin Cassidy scored an inspirational point late in the 1st half against Tyrone. Add to that the fact that (arguably) Donegal’s best playmaker is also our best defender (Karl Lacey) and some of the swashbuckling runs we’ve seen from Neil McGee this year, and I feel better about our ability to match up in this area this time round.

My main worry for Saturday is this – in the wide open spaces of Croke Park, Donegal’s propensity to sit deep and play with virtually no half-forwards will leave the exceptional inside line of Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty too isolated and allow Kildare to mount sweeping counter attacks, while at the same time cutting down on Donegal’s ability to score. Dermot Molloy’s fitness could be key in this respect – he is more of an orthodox half-forward, and could be a better option than McBrearty if Donegal decided to go with a 2 man inside line. It would be great if Leo McLoone were back as well, but I’m not expecting to see him on Saturday.

Donegal have nothing to fear and if they play accordingly, our chances are better than the bookies and pundits will give us credit for. I’m happy to be underdogs, let’s just hope we don’t play that way. I’m afraid I’m not brave enough to forecast a Donegal win, but based on what I’ve seen from this team so far this year, I wouldn’t bet against them. Winning is a great habit, so why stop now?

Tír Chonaill Abú

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