No Need to be too Down about Meath Performance

Donegal beat Meath in Navan in Jim McGuinness’ rookie season in 2011.  Both sides have improved since then, but Sunday’s result felt like a bit of a letdown after the first three games in the 2014 edition of Division Two.

We were very poor in the first half and fell well behind, with the deficit as large as five points. But, as has happened in every game so far, we got a goal, and that got us back in the game, even thought Meath went right up the other end with amazing ease and pulled one back.  The overall performance was such that I wonder if perhaps training might have intensified in recent weeks, although we were able to lift our intensity in the second half, and created more than enough chances to suggest we could have won easily on another day.

We led on only two occasions – the initial score and then with around ten minutes to go. As said, we created a host of good chances in the second half but our finishing was very poor at times. Meath played very defensively in the second half – that’s not a criticism, just an observation – all 15 green jerseys were in their own half at times.  

Biggest issue, aside from the missed chances, was our kickouts. What on earth were we doing? We seemed to be making an effort to create lots of space, but then nobody was running into the space, save for maybe two times when Murphy managed to get free, but Meath were able to negate this by dropping a man back. Durcan didn’t look like he knew what he was doing, or his execution was very poor.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it was evidence of work in progress.  While Rory Kavanagh and Martin McElhinney did ok at times on Sunday, Meath’s big men illustrated why we need Big Neil back in the line-up.  He took the field to the now customary cheer and was effective, earning praise from Jim McGuinness afterwards.

Christy had a good game. Created several turnovers, his was always looking to give a pass and he scored two points from play. He looked like he was struggling towards the end, but as Jim says, the pitch was heavy (and this is an issue at this time of the year). Hopefully when the ground hardens up Christy might find it easier going, but the nagging doubts about his ability to last the pace will remain until we see him at the pitch of Championship football.

Ryan McHugh had a good game, although he gave away a free due to an extremely poor/lazy attempt to tackle and he was clearly at fault for his black card, which I had no issue with. And it didn’t really change our game plan too much as Jim had said beforehand that Karl Lacey would be getting some game time at some stage on Sunday.  Some of his Mark McHugh’s distribution was very poor, but he probably improved a bit in the second half, and in a change in approach from the first half, he was pushed up into a more traditional half forward role.

Jigger showed well when he came on, he tracked and tackled hard, but he failed to convert either of the two chances he created for himself.  We missed Paddy McBrearty yesterday, given that he has contributed at least two points from the bench in each game so far.  On Sunday, none of the subs used scored, although it’s worth nothing that David Walsh won a free in front of the posts and hit the post with shot for a point. It was good to see him back in action, at worst it is good to have him available to use as a sub, but I’m not sure I see him as a starter at the present time.

Ok to come back to a familiar theme, Leo McLoone was solid enough on the ball yesterday, but a further weakness was exposed – his tackling is shocking. He’s just not good enough for centre half back at this level in my opinion.  It will be interesting to see if McGuinness persists with him through the rest of the League as that would suggest to me he will also start come Championship.

Odhran MacNiallais and Brick were only ok at best yesterday and both were subbed. MacNiallais is still looking like a possible starter, but you have to figure that when Paddy McBrearty is fully fit and available, he will take the corner forward spot that the young Glenties man has occupied frequently so far in 2014.

Leading in injury time, Meath will be disappointed that they didn’t hold on to win. Fair play to Donegal for sticking with it, but honestly, Meath gave us every chance to get the draw – Michael Murphy’s wonderful equaliser came about when Meath delayed taking a sideline ball and then fouled the ball from the resulting hop ball.  And prior to that, they had kicked into Paul Durcan’s hands when it seemed easier to put the ball over the bar for a two point lead.  All in all, while we might be disappointed with yesterday’s result and aspects of the performance, Meath came desperate for a result and put much more effort into their tactics and performance than Monaghan had the week before.  We were tested, but held our nerve and weren’t beaten. Take those as positives and hope that we can learn something from the mistakes.

It was of course a great score under pressure from Murphy to get the draw, but it’s the second game in a row he hasn’t scored from play. Is this an issue? I’m not sure as it’s never really mattered to me who gets our scores and how as long as we get enough to win.  Thinking about it earlier today, maybe we should move away from the popular notion that Michael is best deployed on the edge of the square and can in fact be a more effective playmaker when he’s played on or around the 40.

As far as the recent League record goes, Donegal beat Down handily in Ballybofey last year, but lost in Newry in 2012.  Down are after losing to a wretched Galway team and had only two scorers all afternoon – free taker Donal O’Hair and the outstanding Kevin McKernan.  They had to battle against a weakened Monaghan team to salvage a draw in Newry and needed a late late Mark Poland goal to get past Armagh in a monsoon at the Athletic Grounds.  Their one convincing performance to date was their win over a Louth team who are likely headed for Division Three when they racked up 4-16 in Newry, including two goals from veteran sub Benny Coulter, who I am kind of surprised to see is ‘only’ 31.  Like last weekend, Donegal should win, but in truth any result wouldn’t surprise me, save for maybe Donegal taking a hammering.

Before I finish, on to off field matters for a moment.  It is disturbing, but maybe not surprising, to hear and read of a lack of communication and co-operation between the Senior and U-21 management teams.  At U-21 level, Donegal have a team with no little talent (Paddy McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Marty O’Reilly, Hugh McFadden) and a relatively kind draw, facing Fermanagh in the first round and if successful, a semi-final meeting with either Antrim or Armagh.  At the least, we have a great shot at reaching another Ulster Final and it would be a pity if internecine issues make things more difficult than they need to be.  Add to that, the growing dissent at club level around fixtures that seems certain to drag Jim McGuinness in.  This blog is mainly concerned with the County Senior team, but it saddens me that our other teams and our clubs aren’t really being given a fair shake.

Until Victory, Always.

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