My Momma Never Told Me

There’d be days like this.  Winning an Ulster Final by 11 points.  It’s surreal.  It wasn’t just the margin of victory but the manner of it. 2-15 scored from play.  11 different scorers.  Only one point from Michael Murphy.  Never in my life did I think I’d see the likes of it.  I don’t know if anyone did.  Well, maybe this guy did.  Sorry if this blog post is short on analysis; it’s one of those rare times when I’m going to focus on the positives.

Donegal had two points after 30 minutes of play and hadn’t scored for 15 minutes.  Over the next 45 minutes or so, they scored 2-16.  It was phenomenal.  The speed of movement and thought was unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a Donegal team.  If Donegal were strangely constrained against a Tyrone team that were badly exposed in Killarney at the weekend, they held nothing back when it mattered against Down.  They outscored their Ulster Final opponents 1-13 to six points in the second half.

Before the game and at half-time, TV analysts were talking about the possibility of a draw.  A draw!  The first half was tense and didn’t help my hangover that’s for sure. Down had their chances alright, but Donegal were playing against the breeze and yet still went in ahead by a point.  The reality was that they had Down right where they wanted them.  If the first half was tense, the second half was an expression of the power with which Donegal have played at times this year.

Donegal took some big hits on Sunday, but were more than able for anything Down threw at them.  The ability to take this kind of punishment will be needed more often in the weeks ahead.  This is something that maybe they were lacking last year.  The fitness was there, but the physical conditioning is at a new level this year.  The fitness this year unbelievable – the pace at which backs were able to break forward and get into scoring positions was perhaps the key difference between the two teams with backs (I count Mark McHugh as a back!) contributing 1-4 to Donegal’s total and there should have been more with Anthony Thompson wasting a glorious chance for a goal in the first half.  How’s that for defensive football?

One thing is becoming more and more evident to me – this is a special team with a very special manager.  Peter Canavan spoke on Sunday about how well managed they are – not just on the pitch but in how the players conduct themselves off the pitch – everything was ‘just right’ as he put it – right down to Michael Murphy’s speech.  I’ve noticed the same myself.  Even though the Derry game was the most facile of victories, there was no showboating, no baiting of the opposition.  It was a similar case on Sunday.  Donegal were respectful and modest in the aftermath.  Forgive me if I sound effusive.  I’ve seen and heard of plenty of wild celebrations on the back of modest victories and goading of the opposition on days when we had won nothing.  There’s no shame in winning with good grace.

Winning Ulster titles back to back and from the preliminary rounds in both years (Donegal are now unbeaten in eight games in Ulster) is historic, but the players realise that the Tyrone and Armagh teams of the past decade are the benchmark.  When you look at the Donegal squad profiles and survey the landscape in Ulster, you realise that there could and should be more days like Sunday if this panel stays intact and can bring the same level of intensity and fitness in future years.   I certainly don’t think supporters would get tired of that feeling any time soon.

I’ve heard the question a lot in the past few days.  Can Donegal win the All-Ireland?  Players and management were asked it in the immediate aftermath of the game on Sunday.  They said all the right things – their focus is on the next game but yes, they believe. With pundits, it’s very much a mixed bag.  It’s a question I’m not going to worry about for the moment – I’m going to enjoy where this team is at right now.   There will be plenty of time to think about September after the August Bank Holiday.

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