A Win out West but a Showdown in Letterkenny Looms

It’s almost like our last game was part of a different season due to the two weekends that have passed with no game, but I’ll write briefly about Galway before moving on to Monaghan.  Thankfully the game went ahead after multiple pitch inspections across different venues. After that, I was happy to get the win.

But, it wasn’t really a great game. There were some nice moves by Donegal in the first half, including the one that led to Colm McFadden’s well taken goal. We were well on top at midfield – Galway made two changes to their midfield before the throw in as far as I could tell. I was happy enough at half time given that we were playing against the wind and Galway only seemed to be able to hit us on the break.

The second half was kind of odd. Galway probably played better than they had in the first. I guess the pitch didn’t help, the going was heavy and players slipped quite a bit as well.   In interviews after, Jim reckoned that the lads tired in the second half.  We could sense that from the stands, and, on a heavy pitch, it was no surprise that there was a drop off in intensity as the game went on.

I don’t think anyone really stood out over 70 minutes, but Martin McElhinney had a good game. Brick Molloy didn’t do much wrong. Anthony Thompson had a really good first half, but seemed to tire as the game went on. Christy didn’t play as well as he did last week and one or two things he tried didn’t come off. Karl Lacey was good, mostly in a defensive sense. Neil McGee played pretty well. Paddy McBrearty came on and kicked three good scores. Big Neil made his return, which was good to see.

It seems kind of significant that Hugh McFadden has got twenty minutes or so in each of the first two games.  He’s a guy that has a lot of talent, and the physical size that could be an asset.  Jigger got the game time in the McKenna Cup, but McFadden wasn’t fit.  If I had to wager on one of them to make an impact this year, it would be McFadden, although seeing Jigger in action for the Senior team intrigues me.

Ryan McHugh struggled at corner back and was switched with Frank McGlynn. He also blew a great chance for a goal and didn’t even get a point out of it. Still, he’s got a good engine.  And, he did kick a point later in the second half.  Like Odhran MacNiallais against Laois, he didn’t let his head drop after his miss.  And, think back to his point in last year’s Ulster Final.  The lad doesn’t lack confidence that’s for sure.

People (including me) say that Division Two won’t test us and that Jim McGuiness won’t know what he has with the younger players until we reach the Championship.  To a certain extent, that’s nonsense as I’m sure Jim knows what he has, it’s the rest of us who need to see it to believe it.  But, I do have a concern that certain players are getting away with things in these games that they will not get away with in the heat of a Championship summer.  We know that the Frank McGlynn’s, Neil Gallagher’s, Mark McHugh’s and Michael Murphy’s of the world have done it in the Championship before – some other lads haven’t yet and Laois and Galway in February are not the measure of what we will face this summer.

Out of all the supposed top teams in the Country, Donegal have probably been playing with more of our first line players than any other contender.  So we should be doing well.  It’s good to win games – last year we lost too many and our performances in the league were largely disenchanting.  We bet the farm on the Championship and it didn’t work out.  Next up, we have one of our conquerors from last summer and a traditional nemesis.  Monaghan will undoubtedly present us with more of a test than either Laois or Galway has in our first two games.

By the time Monaghan come to town, the first choice fifteen may become clearer.  Eamon McGee will have returned from suspension.  Neil Gallagher should be fit to play a full part.  Paddy McBrearty should be in contention to start and has been going well in the Sigerson Cup. I assume that these three lads are still part of our first choice team, although I do wonder if Eamon McGee starts when everyone is fit again.  He wasn’t the only one, but he looked very out of sorts against both Monaghan and Mayo last year. This is perhaps reflective of the overall issue that affected Donegal last year – the collective failure put our full back line under more pressure than they had been subjected to in 2012. I’m hoping that when he comes back my niggling doubt about him from last year will be put to rest.

If I think back to last summer, my recollection is that Monaghan were fortunate enough to beat Cavan and looked pretty average against Antrim.  They certainly didn’t disgrace themselves against Tyrone, but they never really looked likely winners either.  The Ulster Final was the one game where they looked truly impressive, but we need to temper that by acknowledging that Donegal were a shadow of their former selves that day.  I was impressed with them, but on reflection, I’m not convinced.  If we are to lose any of our home games in Division Two, this could be it however.

For anyone who wonders why I would refer to Monaghan as our nemesis, here’s a reminder of our pretty horrible recent history against the Farney men.  2013 Ulster Final – lost (when chasing a historic three in a row).  2008 All Ireland Qualifiers Second Round – lost at home by one point.  2007 All Ireland Qualifiers – hammered in Omagh.  Our last win of any consequence (and this is arguable) was in Division 2A in 2004.  Only Armagh have given us a worse time in the last twenty years.

Monaghan let Down come back to draw with them in their first game but then ‘put a hurting’ on a Meath team that racked up 3-18 in their first game.  Donegal have a perfect record and seemed to have got some of their mojo back.  This game in Letterkenny feels like the defining game in the Division.  Win well, or even win a hard fought game, and we will continue to feel good about things.  Lose, and a re-assessment of what we’ve seen up until now will be in order.  Things aren’t that simple of course.  Recall that in Division Two in 2011, we actually drew two home games (against Sligo and Kildare) and lost to Laois away.  We subsequently won the Ulster title and came within a kick of reaching the All Ireland Final.  Even in 2012 our league form wasn’t wonderful, winning only three games and having to beat an Armagh team in obvious state of decline at home to stay up.  That was the year Laois embarrassed us in Letterkenny live on TG4.  So, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that we will beat Monaghan, or indeed that we will go all out to do so.  But I’d like to think that we will.

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