Downward Trend

There’s not really much to say when you score 10 points in 75 minutes. 

The signs were there against Monaghan to be honest, we weren’t great and they were poor.  We got out of jail against Meath, thanks in large part to their failures and Michael Murphy’s brilliance, but there was no late reprieve in Newry on Sunday.

Down defended well, did well to slow us in possession by fair means and foul, and while we created enough chances to win, I didn’t think we deserved anything from the game.  We’ve seen the stats – 30 scoring chances to Down’s 21, 12 wides, 6 short, 2 blocked, but really, even if we had kicked half of our chances and won the game. I don’t know if anyone would have come away feeling that happy. Besides, I hate analysing a game in these sorts of terms.  If we win, I like to say that we could have won by more. When we lose, I just tend to say that we didn’t play well enough full stop.

Looking at tactics for a moment, the treatment afforded to Conor Laverty was puzzling. Might we have considered man marking their most dangerous player? He seemed to have the freedom of the park.  Of course, there will be an argument that says you don’t want to show your hand during the league, but you can’t win games if you ignore what’s happening on the pitch. 

In terms of individual performances, there isn’t much to say.  Neil McGee did quite well, especially in the first half, but other than that, I don’t think anyone stood out.  At the same time, I don’t think anyone played particularly badly, even if there were a number of below par performances from certain players.  It was very much a case of general lethargy – which might give some support to the one theory being proffered below.

Does this defeat do any long term damage?  Probably not, but two things – Jim McGuinness stresses that the League is about building confidence, so Sunday’s result has to be seen as a negative in that regard.  And, for the second week running, we struggled to overcome a team that set up defensively. 

In an effort to perhaps turn the tide, Paddy McBrearty and Darach O’Connor were deployed.  Ultimately, it accomplished nothing except putting two players who had bigger games to play in the coming days at risk.  Maybe no harm was done, but I just wonder what was the real motive behind these changes?  If it was really borne out of a desire to win the game, then I guess I can’t really argue, but if it was done for any other reason, then I am disappointed.  I thought at the time that Christy Toye and Brick Molloy had been doing ok, and Brian McEniff said as much in his piece in the Donegal Democrat, so it will remain a moot point.  Jigger did score a first minute goal for his school team on the Monday morning so maybe his cameo didn’t affect him, but, he was ruled out of U-21 action on Wednesday night with a hamstring injury. 

But, let me try some perspective.  In Division One, Tyrone and Cork were looking impressive in going unbeaten in their opening four games but were then beaten comprehensively by Kerry and Mayo in recent weeks.  That’s the nature of the league, but let’s not kid ourselves – Down are not in the class of Mayo or even a Gooch-less Kerry.  It’s not just this defeat in isolation that would concern me, it’s the trend.  Since the first day out against Laois our scoring rate has been declining and performances have seemed less fluid and assured.  Sunday was also the first game this year where we haven’t scored a goal, and to tell you the truth, I don’t recall us creating too many clear goal chances either.  Our scoring average is reverting to the same level that we managed in Division Two in 2011 – our scoring has declined in each of the last four games after we hit 2-19 first day out.

The popular, and a possible, explanation is that the level of intensity at training has increased.  Maybe, but none of us can really be sure of that without confirmation from within the camp.

In terms of the overall picture in Division Two, results in the last two weeks haven’t helped our cause, but it still remains within our own hands, largely due to our scoring advantage over Down.  For the record, I now expect Monaghan to finish ahead of Donegal as they have home games against Galway and Laois and have a scoring difference of +23 points (we currently sit at +25).  While in theory we could put up a big score against Louth, the way our scoring has dipped, I wouldn’t bet on it, and while I expect us to win in Armagh, I doubt we will score enough to cancel out whatever Monaghan can do in their remaining games.  Even if Down can beat Meath in Navan and then beat Laois in Port Laoise, I doubt they will make up the seven point differential we currently enjoy over them.  In the event all three teams are tied (as they are at present) head to head becomes irrelevant and scoring difference is what decides matters.  However, should Monaghan win both their games and Donegal lose to Armagh and Down lose to Meath (plausible), we could still sneak into the Division Two decider as there could end up being a four way tie for second with Donegal, Down, Meath and Armagh all on 9 points, but Donegal would still likely win a tie breaker on scoring difference.  Cue hilarious talk of the ‘abacus’ on the final day if any of this comes to pass.

Win both our remaining games and we are pretty much guaranteed promotion.  With winless Louth visiting on Sunday week, having conceded an average of nearly 19 points a game, we have a great chance to put our scoring woes of recent weeks behind us.  We have very little recent history against Louth, with our last meeting taking place in a Division Two Final replay back in 2006, when we lost.  I don’t recall that day or indeed the first game too fondly, so hopefully my day trip to Ballyshannon will be more fruitful than recent trips to Ballybofey and Newry.  A good performance and a win always makes the road home seem shorter.

Until Victory, Always. 

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