The Grind

‘Grim efficiency’ was how @tommymartin77 described it.  Hard to argue with that. Martin McHugh commented on the intensity in the 1st half as told to him by Paddy McBrearty.  The level of intensity was pretty evident from being there.   This is unfamiliar territory for Donegal – generally the intensity was pretty one-sided last year (although I didn’t see the Kildare game in person, so can’t say if that was similar to Saturday) – Donegal were the ones who brought it.  On Saturday, we came up against a good team that was willing to play us at our own game for long stretches of the game.  Of course, part of the reason Donegal are successful is there physical conditioning and fitness – you can try and match the style, but executing it for 70 minutes is not for the faint hearted.  Tyrone seemed to flag in the 2nd half, allowing Donegal to take control and see out the game.

Before the game, there was a lot of talk in the media that Donegal had added an attacking dimension to their game that was not present last year.  Was this new approach (average of 19 points in previous 2 Championship games) evident on Saturday afternoon?

My fears about our scoring were somewhat realised against Tyrone. 12 points (and not many wides – 6 in total and only 2 in the 2nd half) is a fairly low return for Championship football.  Now, let me caveat that.  Firstly, Tyrone played very deep in the 1st half (this isn’t a criticism of Tyrone – they are entitled to employ whatever tactics they desire) which made it hard for Donegal – ball carriers ran into a lot of cul de sacs and there were quite a few turnovers.  I don’t know if we’ll see any more good teams employ a similar tactic against us this year.  Donegal adjusted to this after the break, even though our scoring was only marginally better (7 points in the 1st half vs 5 points in the 1st), but they moved the ball quicker and had more support runners ready to shoot.

Secondly, as long as we outscore the other team, what’s the problem?  In theory, there isn’t one.  12 points would have been more than enough to win last year’s All-Ireland Semi-Final.  The question is, can we defend as well if we have to take more chances?  I don’t think we can suddenly become a better attacking team without sacrificing some of our defensive strength.  So far, Jim McGuinness has done a great job at finding the right balance – I still feel he got it wrong in last year’s All-Ireland Semi-Final, but it was a very marginal thing.  As the quality of the opposition increases, so does that task. 

As I said during the game and as I’ve heard since, the game this year was quite similar to last years – Tyrone were on top for large stretches of the 1st half, but Donegal stayed in touch and were the better team in the 2nd half. Aside from the relatively low score for Donegal, the other thing that would concern me was the goal scoring opportunities created on both sides – I made it 3-0 in favour of Tyrone.  Now, maybe that’s a sign of Donegal’s development – last year we scored 2-06 (8 scores) – relying on goals to get us over the line – and I don’t recall too many wides. This year we had 12 scores and managed to keep Tyrone to 10 points (vs 9 last year).  Ok, the whole ‘number of scores’ view is a bit weak – the highest score wins games regardless of whether that comes from goals or points etc. But maybe it was a more assured win this year (despite late save from Durcan required to prevent Penrose goal)? 

According to the match report filed on gaa.ie Donegal kept Tyrone scoreless for 32 minutes on Saturday.   That’s impressive.  But by the same measure, Armagh didn’t score for 26 minutes in the 2nd half against Roscommon. So was this a great defensive display or a sign of poor opposition?  The truth lies somewhere in the middle I reckon.  Tyrone are far from a poor team, but you have to question the standard of any team that goes nearly a whole half of football without scoring.

Donegal didn’t score from the 63rd minute (after McFadden’s terrific point). There was still 10 minutes left in the game at the stage (there was 3 minutes of added time).  Donegal were 3 points ahead when Paul Durcan made an outstanding save from Martin Penrose’s well struck shot, so there’s no telling how the game would have gone if Tyrone had levelled that late on.

One thing that bothered me from browsing some stats in Monday’s Irish Times was that Donegal conceded 26 frees – twice as much as Tyrone in fact.  Only one team conceded more frees this past weekend – Armagh.  It would be hypocritical of me to ignore this given my views on the cynical nature of Armagh football over the years – I hope that it’s not going to become the norm for Donegal.  There’s a difference (to me) between defensive tactics and cynical tactics – I have no problem with the former, but don’t approve of the latter.

In short, it was a very good win, and the manner of it will have done us a power of good as neither Cavan or Derry provided anything like the sort of challenge we got from Tyrone. In addition, some of the hype and hot air might die down for a few weeks, no harm as we prepare to do what no Donegal team has done before and retain the Ulster Senior Football title.

And finally, the more I see of him, the more I’m convinced that Patrick McBrearty won’t be the scoring forward I had hoped, but he is a very good footballer.  As Oisin McConville says here,  he rarely takes the wrong option.  In addition, he’s a very unselfish player.  How about him as our playmaking half forward and leave Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden inside where they both can do the most damage?

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