A League Of His Own

Let me start with a brief rant.

It’s ironic that Donegal (and Michael Murphy in particular) are the poster boys for the GAA’s TV ads telling us that we should ‘think again’ when wondering whether or not the National League ‘lacks intensity’ takes place against a backdrop where Jim McGuinness is proclaiming that it wouldn’t matter ‘if we lost all our games in the league’.

This is a bit of a bugbear of mine.  Of course I’d rather we do well in the All Ireland than the League, but is doing well in both mutually exclusive?  People will point to Cork – winners of the last two National League titles, but knocked out at quarter-final stage in the All Ireland – as the case for not taking the National League seriously.  Unless someone can point to a causal rather than a casual link between these matters I’m not convinced.  And, the real issue here is how can you expect supporters to turn out if they know that they competition is going to be treated in such a way?

But, who am I to question Jim McGuinness on such matters.  His comments this year are no different from prior years – indeed when I raised this issue with a mate lately, he pointed out to me that Jim’s comments after the Down game were pretty much the same (word for word) as what he has said after the league win over Cork in 2012.  So at least his position is consistent, and relatively speaking, we are in a better position after two games this year than we were after two games last year.

In the loss to Kildare, as I saw it (on Setanta, not in person, which means that my view of the game is far from complete) the main reasons we lost were concession of two fairly sloppy goals and the fact that Kildare were able to give Niall Kelly his first league start. The goal Tomas O’Connor scored from a rebound was the sort of incident that Donegal dominated both defensively and offensively last year.  Yet on that night, Kildare were quicker to react – the fact that the ball took an awkward bounce off the inside of the post didn’t help, but Mayo could have made the same claim about Colm McFadden’s goal in the All-Ireland Final.  We have to put our hands up and say we were second best on the night.  As for John Doyle’s goal, well, let’s not forget that Paul Durcan is an All-Star and didn’t win the award by conceding such howlers.  It was out of character and I don’t think we’re likely to witness the same again this year.  Better to get it out of the way now.

In Niall Kelly, Kildare had a young player who was able to make a telling contribution to his side’s victory.  In Paddy McBrearty, Donegal have a young talent, but his influence on the game in the absence of Colm McFadden was much less telling than the impact of Kelly.  Sure Paddy is still young, but this is now his third season as a Senior player and I think it’s fair to say that in Croke Park especially, the performances haven’t lived up to high expectations.  In fairness, when watching the game from the stands, his influence tends to be harder to detect than it is when watching a game on TV and with the benefit of replays.  There were a few nice touches for assists in the Kildare game, and based on what I have seen so far, Paddy is more effective as a playmaker than as a pure scorer.  In truth, Donegal are more in need of a scorer than a playmaker, especially on nights when we are without Colm McFadden, or indeed when teams decide they can’t afford not to have two men marking Michael Murphy.

In our win over Down, for the first half it seemed that things were going to be much less straightforward than I had imagined.  But, the second half was more like what we saw last summer in Clones, but in all honesty Down were awful from the start of the second half (they didn’t manage to register a score until there was five minutes left in the game).  Still, we saw encouraging performances from both Ryan McHugh and Ross Wherity, who are both new to the panel under Jim McGuinness (Wherity had played briefly under John Joe Doherty), as well as the return of Neil Gallagher. Not to mention that we started the game missing 50% of our first choice defence from 2012, and yet still held Down to eight points.  All encouraging signs, no matter what the quality of the opposition (worth pointing out that Down were unable to call on Dan Gordon, Danny Hughes or Ambrose Rodgers and started without Benny Coulter), with one item for concern being the 10 wides Donegal managed, many from very favourable situations.  And to continue the point I started earlier, Paddy McBrearty’s display was a bit of a disappointment, being held scoreless throughout.

Both games so far have illustrated something that was common place last year – Donegal do the most damage in the third quarter of games.  In their next game against Tyrone, Donegal will face a team that has stayed in their first two league games long enough to win both, and of course we all remember that if not for a Paul Durcan save late in the day last time these teams met, the outcome might have been different. So it will be interesting to see if the third quarter burst will be enough to deal with a Tyrone team that once again includes Sean Cavanagh (absent from last year’s Ulster Semi-Final), who has been playing well and scoring regularly lately. It remains to be seen whether either manager will want to show too much of his hand in Omagh on Sunday with a much more important rematch looming at a yet to be determined location on 26 May.

In club news, the structure has been agreed and the draw has been made for the 2013 and 2014 Donegal Senior Championship.  Some very interesting groups, not least those containing last year’s finalists St Eunans and Naomh Conaill and the ‘Group of Death’ containing 2011 Champions Glenswilly and runners up St Michaels as well as the fast improving Kilcar.  Still, we are far from certain as to when games will actually played, with the first round of games scheduled for the June Bank Holiday weekend, but this depends on who might be involved in the Gaeltacht Championship Finals which are scheduled for the same weekend.  Thereafter, everything is subject to change depending on the progress of the County team.  So, if Donegal do as well as we hope/expect this summer, expect the same sort of issues that clubs faced last year to recur in 2013.  There has to be a middle ground where the needs of the clubs and the County team can be met.  I’ve yet to see it discussed however.  Subsequent to the holding of the draws, a number of irregularities were identified with the Intermediate, Junior and Under-21 draws which led to them being redrawn.  I accept that the GAA is an amateur organisation and that those involved at a local level are volunteers, but that doesn’t absolve those who have sought office from carrying out their tasks with more care than we have seen with the Championship draws.

I’ll finish with another rant.  On Sunday evening last, the ‘Donegal Supporters Club’ was relaunched in Ballybofey.  None of the Donegal supporters I have spoken to recently were aware that this was happening or attended the event. It warranted but a paragraph in the previous week’s Donegal Democrat (I don’t know if it was reported on by other local papers, I assume it was), but I saw or heard of no publicity from the County board or indeed any of the players (who if they had been asked would have created awareness of the launch on Twitter etc).  The purpose of the Supporters Club is to raise funds for the County Teams, I have no problem with that, indeed I have been calling for more transparency around the financial needs of the County Team so that supporters can contribute – and not the sort of sneaky opportunistic nonsense we witnessed last year with the All-Ireland Final ticket levy.  My issue is that this was surely an event that deserved greater publicity, but like so many things in the GAA, it has been treated like a secret.

Anyway, the new year for Donegal is well and truly underway.  If it’s any way as good as 2012 we are in for a treat.

Until Victory, Always.

P.S. in case you are a regular reader but aren’t aware, I’ve recently started contributing to a new podcast dedicated to discussing Donegal GAA.  You can find the first two episodes here and on i-tunes.  We also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account and we’d love you to get involved by ‘Liking’ and ‘Following’ and interacting by posting comments and questions.

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