Hard Written

I don’t have any answers as to what has happened on Sunday. I wish I had, even for my own sake.  At the end of the day, you tip your cap to Mayo, who were awesome.  But, despite the fact that Donegal started with 13 of the 15 who started in the All Ireland Final of 2012, it did not feel like we were watching the same team.  I’m not angry.  I’m shocked and disappointed. I’ve rarely felt as bad watching a game as I did on Sunday.  I’d imagine that a lot of you feel the same way.  Maybe even the players and management too.  It’s hard to believe that anyone saw this coming.  The scoreline that is – there were more than a few of us who felt we would fall just short.  A few more feared the worse – that Mayo would win easily, i.e. by five or six points.  For a while, it looked like Mayo would win by 20.

Of course the warning signs had been there for the past three games.  In truth, we were further off the pace against Monaghan than the scoreboard suggested.  Down and Laois are far off the level of Mayo were at on Sunday.  I’m sure James Horan will have been watching those games and licking his lips.  We were obviously there for the taking.  His team exposed our failings in a ruthless fashion.

The Donegal ‘system’ was always dependent on having our players super fit.  In Mayo, we ran into a team that was operating at a similar level we were at last year.  Their display against Galway caught my eye – not just the scoreline but the intensity at which they played throughout the whole game.  From the throw in on Sunday, they were relentless.  We had no answer to the pace and the power.  The fact that they are obviously playing with such great confidence, as we were last year, gave them an edge.  We never looked confident this year and despite the great win over Tyrone in May, we didn’t seem to be building towards something this year.  Last year, we had momentum.  Whatever little bit we regained with the win over Laois disappeared very quickly after 4 pm on Sunday.

The cliché, ‘the players owe us nothing’ is being thrown about a lot at the moment.  This is true of course, but the players owe it to themselves to put this ‘right’.  They are better than they showed on Sunday, we all know that.  Normally, you’d love to have the opportunity to put this right as soon as possible, but that will have to wait until next year.  How many of those players will be around next year remains to be seen. Rumours and speculation are rife.  I’m not going to bother engaging in any further here, except to say that I want all our players to come back for another year at least.  The fact that Frank McGlynn and Colm McFadden have already come out and said that they are staying on is most welcome.  I’d love for this bunch to stick with it and at least reclaim the Ulster Title.

But, for all I want the current squad to stay together, I want to see changes, or at least a greater sense that there is genuine competition for places.  On Sunday, Mayo started with nine of the 15 that started the All-Ireland Final last September.  Donegal started with 13 of their starting 15, and likely would have started with 14 if Karl Lacey had been deemed fit enough to start.  In a year where we had so many injuries, and it’s likely that anything like seven or eight of the team that started on Sunday weren’t fully fit, was it really wise to persist with so many players were not operating at 100%?  Would you rather play with a host of star players at 70% vs a squad player who is 100%?  We mightn’t have been good enough to win on Sunday, but maybe we would have been more competitive.

Of course, our squad has been mooted as an issue all year.  My biggest issue with our approach to the League was always this – we didn’t get to see enough of the squad players – especially given the demands placed on our more established starters.  And I won’t accept anyone throwing stats at me for number of players used etc.  Few got serious playing time.  Maybe what we have outside if our first choice 16/17 players aren’t good enough, but it would be nice to see for ourselves.  It’s also worth considering how it feels like to be sitting on the bench for 70 minutes while the team on the pitch is taking a hammering like we saw on Sunday.  I doubt they felt great about things either.  It’s not just some of the more established players that might decide to call it a day after Sunday.

As for the manager.  There is only one man I want to see managing Donegal for the foreseeable future and that’s Jim McGuinness.  After Armagh beat us in 2010, we were at possibly our lowest ebb (although the defeat to Cork in 2009 was not a proud day either) and he was the man to restore pride and then some.  He learned the lessons from 2011 to take us to a first All-Ireland title in 20 years in 2012.  He will no doubt learn more from 2013 if he’s prepared to stay on in 2014.  I hope that the Donegal County Board say and do all the right things in that regard – it’s Jim’s decision of course, but I have no doubt that decision can be made easier by a strong message of support – in deeds as well as words.

A lot of people are consoling themselves with the fact that we have had a great few years and that “we’ll be back in 2014”.  That is only half true at this point in time.  A lot remains to be seen as to who will be back in 2014.  I’m not writing anyone’s appreciation or obituary at this point, so you won’t hear any expressions of appreciation or wistfulness from me at this stage, I’ll wait until I get confirmation as to who is doing what before I start looking back to happier times.  For now, all I have is a feeling.  Not a good one I’ll admit.  Think happy thoughts folks.

Until Victory, Always.

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