Archive for April, 2014

A Final Failure

Of course, I had most of the below written before today’s significant news, so the opening paragraph is a late addition, but let’s get the elephant out of the room.  It seems that Mark McHugh has left the Donegal panel.  Of course, three other players (Gary McFadden, Antoin McFadden and Thomas McKinley) also have appeared to opt out and no harm to them, but I don’t think any of us expected them to figure at any stage this summer.  Only one of them, Gary McFadden, had seen any time during the League, and he had seen a grand total of two minutes against Louth for his efforts.  No surprise then that these lads would walk away at this stage of the year.  Mark McHugh is another story of course.  The Democrat had the scoop earlier today and we got a bit more detail via the Donegal News this evening.  Damien Diver acknowledges that his form has been ‘indifferent’, which I think most of us would agree with.  The reasons for quitting aren’t exactly a surprise given what we hear about the intensity of training and the level of commitment required, but it’s undoubtedly a blow to our Championship preparations.  We can’t afford to lose someone who was an All Star in 2012 and played a key role in our All Ireland success, and of course this will bring more heat on McGuinness, especially in light of Sunday’s performance.  And, you would wonder – is Mark McHugh the only Donegal player ‘disillusioned’ with football after three hard years under Jim?  I sure hope not.

Anyway, back to business as usual, and it’s a longer than normal blog this week.  This is what happens when we lose, I typically have more to say than when we win.  Most people are struggling to keep perspective given our display on Sunday.  I think if we had had lost a competitive game by the odd point, we might not feel as glum.  But the fact is we looked well off the pace and I don’t think many of us expected to see such a lethargic performance with four weeks to go until the Ulster Championship.

Monaghan’s intent was pretty clear from the throw in on Sunday.  Starting Colin Walshe and Darren Hughes told me that that much.  Paudie McKenna was also a late addition to the Monaghan starting fifteen and he had a fine game.  For Donegal, most of us would have been surprised to see Luke Keaney starting at this stage of the season given his lack of game time to this point – he had played one minute against Galway and one minute against Louth.  He was named as a Colleges/Sigerson All Star earlier in the year, so I would have liked to see him get more time during the League, but Declan Walsh looked to be our first choice back up in defence.  On Sunday, he replaced Keaney after 65 minutes.  An odd call by Jim McGuinness.  Stranger still was the sight of Conor Classon replacing Odhran MacNiallais after forty six minutes.  Classon had not played one minute during the League this year, and as far as I can make out, his last appearance for Donegal was in February 2012 in a League game in Newry.  Why does he suddenly appear now, ahead of, say, Marty O’Reilly or Hugh McFadden?  I guess we can’t say for sure who has looked good in training etc. lately but it seems inconsistent with what we have seen so far this year.

We started well enough, with a fine point from Paddy McBrearty and then a free to go two up. But Monaghan levelled through two fortunate enough scores. Their first score came via a Rory Beggan 45 (he has a very languid style, it almost looks like a chip shot, even from that distance) after Luke Keaney appeared to block Kieran Hughes, but replays suggest there was no contact, and Keaney himself wasn’t taking credit for the block.  Monaghan’s second score came via a Darren Hughes ‘Hawkeye’ point came after it seemed to me Rory Kavanagh had been fouled while carrying the ball out of defence.  Watching the game you can see Rory getting a fairly raw deal from the referee throughout, something which may well have contributed to his frustration that may have contributed to his actions leading to the sending off in the second half.

But this was a common theme for the afternoon – Monaghan continually hit while tackling.  Donegal got a few advantages, a few frees, but the effect was calculated.  They certainly played to the margins of the rules, but that’s not a criticism, just an observation.  Indeed watching Monaghan on Sunday I could not help but think of how we played in much the same way in 2012, which seems like longer and longer ago now.  Monaghan were faster, fitter, more focused.  It’s nearly two years since we’ve seen anything like that from Donegal.  Aside from our game against Laois earlier this year, can anyone say when we last played with the sort of verve we recall from 2012?  And Laois aren’t where it’s at.   One thing that I can’t say anymore is that Donegal are better than Monaghan.  Whatever the circumstances, they have now beaten us twice comprehensively in recent ‘trophy games’.  Ignore the result from Letterkenny earlier this year. They have our number for sure.

I guess one positive was that we managed to score as much in the first half on Sunday as we did in 70 minutes in Clones last July.  But the rest of the stats make for ugly reading – 1-14 to 0-04 scored from play and 11 different scorers (seven different Monaghan players scored in the first half).  At half time, the wide count was 7-2 in favour of Monaghan (according to TG4, the Irish Times had it as 5-2).  Missing in that statistic are the three balls that Donegal dropped into Rory Beggan’s hands. This was reflective of the strength of the wind we played against in the first half perhaps, but not something you want to see, especially when up against a team that was so effective on the break.  But I counted two more in the second half as well as two balls caught by Monaghan defenders in the square.

The stats are ugly enough, but watching the game back it is worse still – much like it was watching the Ulster Final last year after attending.  When viewed on TV, it almost seems like Donegal weren’t really trying all that hard on Sunday, at least in the first half.  At least in the second half we looked like we were interested.  The sending off might have derailed our usual third quarter surge, even if we did get level via a dubious penalty.  Regarding the sending off, I have no argument with the red card for Rory, but how any Monaghan escaped some kind of censure for that incident is frustrating, but largely irrelevant.  On Rory, I have seen quite a bit of negative comment regarding his undoubted stupidity, but I’m pretty sure no one is more disappointed than the player himself.  He’s been our most consistent performer this year and now he misses what is the biggest game of the year so far, and what could well be his last game in the Ulster Championship.  We’ll miss him on 25 May for sure.

It was hard to pick out anyone who played well for Donegal on Sunday.  I thought our inside forwards worked hard in difficult conditions – due to the Monaghan tenacity in defence, but also due to the quality of the ball they received, and the ponderous build up play.  While you could look at the 1-14 conceded from play and think that the defence played badly, it’s hard to lay the blame solely at their door when we were turning over the ball so much further up the field.  Our defensive system relies on having bodies filter back at pace – when teams play us at our own game and we don’t react quickly enough, that system breaks down.  Any analysis is made more difficult by the fact that there seemed to be several switches made during the course of the game so it was hard to track who was playing where.  But, I think it’s fair to say that Neil McGee had a tough afternoon when matched up with Ciaran McManus.  And, we struggled, again, to contain the influence of Kieran Hughes, who seemed to be everywhere.  Luckily for us, he had something of an off day in front of goal, even if he did end up with 1-1 from play.

It’s hard to say why Martin McElhinney and Christy Toye were hooked so quickly and simultaneously.  McElhinney had turned the ball over on several occasions and Owen Lennon was doing well at midfield, so maybe Neil Gallagher’s steady play and physical presence was needed.  As for Christy, I didn’t see any obvious reason why he would be replaced – maybe he was not getting back quickly enough when Monaghan were breaking, or maybe Mark McHugh was going to play as a sweeper, although he certainly didn’t seem to play in as deep a role as we had been used to seeing him occupy.  Stranger still that McHugh didn’t start in the first place, even if his form hadn’t been great.  But, knowing what we kind of know now, maybe it’s not so strange that he didn’t start, although it’s also curious that he was picked to come on at all.

Jim McGuinness said afterwards “We tried to push on as best we could but the bodies weren’t able to do it” – which almost suggests we were lacking fitness.  I don’t know what scenario is more concerning – the idea that we weren’t interested in winning, or the fact that we weren’t fit enough to win.  Recall that 14 man Derry were able to kick on and beat Mayo two weeks ago.  I said at the time that I felt Mayo were poor in that game, but still, Mayo are probably a bigger test than Monaghan.  Does this suggest Derry are ahead of us in the fitness stakes?  If so, can we close the gap in the next four weeks?  Declan Bonner has a good piece in the Donegal News, reflecting many of the concerns I’m sure most of us have at this point.  I guess if you want to take anything else from it, the relaying of the conversation with Tommy Carr regarding training camps taking three weeks to yield results will fit the narrative that hard training would lead to the display we saw on Sunday.

In the same interview with the Donegal Democrat referenced above, McGuinness also seems unhappy with the discipline issue, and indeed with the focus on club fixtures.  He didn’t sound overly displeased with the result itself, and it’s hard to contest the view that it was promotion itself that was important.  He was neutral on whether or not the training camp contributed to the performance on Sunday, but that tends to be the usual response from managers – James Horan said as much about Mayo two weeks ago.  But, maybe there’s a theme there – both Donegal and Mayo have looked lethargic at Croke Park in recent weeks.  Both teams are at similar stages in their cycles (Horan took over Mayo in 2010, McGuinness took over Donegal in 2011) and have been worked very hard over the past three years or so.  Is what we have seen reflective of a deeper understanding from the respective managers as to what is required to play until deep into the Championship season or are we seeing players that are tired both physically and mentally. Is the well being refilled or is it running dry?

But putting down the performance on Sunday to the fact that we are working towards bigger goals is largely wishful thinking and based on hope or blind faith rather than evidence. We can only go on what we have seen up to this point, and on the whole, even if we have been promoted, it has not been encouraging.  This was only Division Two remember.

Still, I had a look back at what I wrote prior to the 2012 Championship.  I wasn’t too impressed by our League form back then, but of course the standard of opposition was higher.  I’ll be back to preview the Derry game in a few weeks.  I don’t really feel any worse about it today than I did before throw in on Sunday, especially in light of their hammering at the hands of the team that is undoubtedly out on their own as number one in the country right now.  But of course, then came the news on Mark McHugh and you start going over everything you’ve seen again.  There’s just under four weeks for us to reflect further and for Donegal to get their house in order ahead of the short trip to the big game in Celtic Park.

Until Victory, Always.

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The Phoney War Preview

So, we return to Croke Park for the first time since last August.  I think it’s safe to assume that the experience will be less distressing this time around.  Indeed, we are favoured to win, even if only marginally enough at this point (4/6 with Paddy Power).  Both teams are promoted to Division One no matter what, so you would hope for a competitive game with intent shown by both sides, but we are still in the ‘phoney war’ phase of the season.  Last year, Derry won the Division Two title and went on the have a pretty poor Championship.  Donegal face what appears to be a fairly stern test in four weeks time, while Monaghan get an extra three weeks to prepare, but a harder road to the Ulster Final.  Given that both sides will be eying up a place in the Ulster Final in July, I’m not sure how much either side will reveal their true hand on Sunday.

Monaghan have named their team, and other than Colin Walshe and Darren Hughes (who is on the bench) it is probably their strongest line up, with five changes from the team that started in O’Donnell Park earlier in the league. Given that they have seven weeks until their Ulster Quarter-Final with Down or Tyrone (isn’t it absolutely crazy that Donegal’s game at the same stage is a full three weeks earlier), you would think that Malachy O’Rourke will want to have his lads get through most of the gears on Sunday.

Jim too has named a team – he waited until I had this piece ready to publish of course, but at least we have something to chew over before throw in.  Despite missing their club games on Easter Sunday, Paul Durcan, Leo McLoone, Christy Toye and Michael Murphy are all named to start.  Despite featuring for Kilcar last weekend, Mark McHugh appears to have lost out to his brother Ryan for a half forward spot.  On form, hard to argue with that selection, but equally, it is hard to see McHugh the elder not being part of our starting fifteen come the Championship.  Paddy McBrearty returns in place of Brick Molloy.  Not hugely surprising, but although I have not been his biggest fan, Brick put in a good shift during the League.  After a relatively disappointing Under 21 Final, but impressive cameos from the bench for the senior team, I am hopeful of a good display from Paddy in Croke Park – something I don’t really think he has delivered as yet. 

Martin McElhinney gets the nod over Neil Gallagher at midfield.  At this stage, Neil is surely fit enough to start.  McElhinney will be well able for Paul Finlay on Sunday, but is still not the presence in the middle that Neil has been for us over the years.  Like Leo McLoone at centre back, this experiment has gone on long enough at this stage and I wonder (again?) if this is a sign of what we can expect to see for the Championship?

Despite being confirmed as doubtful during the week, David Walsh makes the bench.  The one name that is missing among the subs that I would have expected to see there is Hugh McFadden.  He wasn’t mentioned as being injured, but that’s not to say he might have picked up a knock last weekend.  Conor Classon replaces him – a clear enough indication that Hugh is seen as midfield cover I guess.  A more welcome sight among the subs from Ardara is that of Paddy McGrath, who completed 60 minutes for his club on Easter Sunday and even managed to score a point.  Serious doubts will persist over his readiness for Championship football, but it’s great to see him available again.

 In Four Masters win over Naomh Conaill last weekend, Karl Lacey scored three points.  Some analysis of our last game in Armagh suggested he was back to his best, and his performances for Four Masters seem to have been impressive as well.  Folks have been waiting all year for Karl to regain Footballer of the Year from.  I don’t know if we’ll see that again to be honest, but he’s certainly in a much much better place than he was last year.  A long ball delivered into the edge of the square on Sunday would be most welcome to see.  He’s been good enough defensively as far as I am concerned.

On Sunday, we will of course get a firsthand look at our Ulster Championship opponents Derry.  I’m not going to dwell too much on the Celtic Park clash scheduled for 25 May until after the Division Two Final except to say that I saw them beat Mayo and was reasonably impressed, although my own view is that Mayo were poor that day. For a fairly balanced view, have a read of what Derry folk themselves made of it.  As you can see, they are not getting carried away with themselves, but there is a growing sense of belief in Brian McIver’s side. What result would be best for Donegal in the Division One decider?  A victory for Derry that will increase the expectations or a hammering to dent confidence?  I’m not sure, but if Dublin can produce anything like their best, it could get ugly for Derry.

More on Derry at another time but let me get back to the curtain raiser on Sunday for now.  This is our second time here under Jim McGuinness.  14 man Donegal (we had Adrian Hanlon sent off in the second half) beat Laois in the Division Two Final in 2011 in what was a pretty competitive game, that went right to the wire.  It was Jim McGuinness’ first trophy won as Donegal Senior Manager as it happens and so probably should retain more of a place in our memories than it probably does.  Here are the highlights for anyone who missed it.  The players don’t seem exactly overjoyed at the end, do they?  There’s lots of interesting bits and pieces in that clip, not least a certain Kevin Cassidy getting in some target practice at Croke Park for later on that year.  There was no sign of the McGee brothers that day, and Cassidy is gone obviously, as is Kevin Rafferty, but many of those who played for Donegal that day in 2011 will likely line out again on Sunday.

Monaghan actually had the best defensive record in the division, conceding an aggregate of 87 points (Donegal conceded an aggregate of 88 so it’s very marginal), with 20% of that total conceded coming on what was undoubtedly an off day in Ballybofey.  Scoring wise, they managed just less than a point a game than Donegal but managed only three goals in their seven games to Donegal’s nine.  In fact, in four games in last year’s Championship, Monaghan managed only one goal, which came from a botched kick out from the Cavan goalkeeper.  Of course, kick outs have been an issue for Donegal this year and Armagh’s goal in our final league game can be traced back to a poor kick out.  And, were it not for Sean Cavanagh’s timely intervention, Monaghan might have had at least one more goal in last year’s Championship.  Will goals be the difference on Sunday in what might be a fairly tight game?  Donegal appear to have a much better chance of scoring them, and so I expect us to win on Sunday.

Finally, just to say that even has someone who doesn’t really have a stake in the game, it is desperately disappointing to see the issues regarding club fixtures continue.  I don’t really understand why the Good Friday games were not ‘starred’ some time ago as the training camp was known about well in advance.  The request/call to postpone or ‘star’ was made very late in the day.  I have to believe that something JimMcGuinness saw or heard in Portugal changed his mind on the County panellists playing on Good Friday and he wasn’t being disingenuous in making the call only a few days in advance.   If I were to believe otherwise, well, I don’t know where that would leave things. 

Until Victory, Always

What Goes Down Must Come Up Again

It’s always a good day when you win. It’s an even better day when you beat Armagh.  And a better day still when you seal promotion and relegate them to Division Three.  After a series of very average performances, it was good that we looked good at times against Armagh.

Due to a hamstring injury picked up last week, Mark McHugh didn’t start, and he wasn’t on the bench. I did notice that he was acting as a ball boy in the warm up. Truth be told, aside from the first game against Laois, his performances have been average with his younger brother outshining him at times. Still, hopefully this is nothing more than a minor injury that clears up in the next few weeks. It was also good to see Paddy McGrath togged out and stretching and taking part in the warm up. I’m still not sure what we can expect from him this year, but would be great to see him get some time in the league final in three weeks time.

Best for Donegal against Armagh were the two McGees and Rory Kavanagh, who has been outstanding all throughout the league. Big Neil got through a lot of good work, especially breaking ball, and it was good to see him starting again after a series of substitute appearances.  This meant that one of our most effective performers during the league, Martin McElhinney was moved to the half forward line, where I felt he was less influential than usual. Michael Murphy took his penalty and goal from play very well, although he might have got away with a wee push in the build up to his second goal.  No matter, the move itself was something we’d all probably like to see more of from Donegal at time – a good kick out, fielded cleanly and delivered directly and quickly to the edge of the square.

Despite his obvious importance to the Under 21 team, Paddy McBrearty was introduced in the second half and again managed to score two fine points.  One thing I thought about earlier was that all Paddy’s scoring appearances during the League have come when Donegal have been leading (Laois, Galway, Monaghan, Armagh), when he was introduced against Down we were losing and he didn’t sore, he didn’t play at all against Meath and he failed to score when started against Louth.  I’m not sure if this means anything, and I hope it doesn’t, but I’m sure you can see what it might be hinting at.  I was at the Under 21 Ulster Final on Wednesday and I thought Paddy had a poor enough game in all honesty, although it probably wasn’t a good night for forwards overall.

McGuinness also saw fit to introduce Hugh McFadden and Ryan McHugh ahead of lads like Declan Walsh, Luke Keaney and even Gary McFadden (i.e. lads who haven’t seen much game time and weren’t playing on Wednesday night). Ryan McHugh did well (as is generally the case), Hugh McFadden didn’t do a lot wrong or have much of an impact, I suspect he is sent out and told what to do and just does it.  Right now, our bench for the summer looks like it’s Michael Boyle, David Walsh, Jigger, Declan Walsh, Hugh McFadden, Marty Reilly, Paddy McGrath and then either Neil Gallagher or Martin McElhinney as being the subs most likely to be used this summer.  Anyone else looks like they will get a jersey but nothing else

And so to the bad points from the Armagh game, or as I would see them, worrying trends rather than one off issues that can be safely ignored. Firstly our kick outs, or, to be more accurate, Paul Durcan’s kick outs.  It’s not all on Paul of course, but I think anyone who has been going to games will be aware of the problems we seem to be having with restarts.  Hopefully it’s something that can be addressed over the next few weeks.

Another game, another goal conceded – that’s an average of one goal conceded per game in Division Two, although to be fair, clean sheets were kept against Galway and Monaghan. And if we look back at the league (Division One) in 2012, we actually conceded eight goals in total, one more than we conceded this year. Maybe the relative number of goals conceded shouldn’t concern us, but there seems to be a common enough theme to how goals are scored – teams are running straight at us from deep and seem to be getting through our defensive lines with relative ease.

We also failed to pick up Armagh’s playmaker Aaron Kernan in much the same way as we struggled to pin down Conor Laverty in Newry last month, although Kernan had much less of an influence on the game as it worn on. One thing that stood out from watching Derry beat Mayo in Croke Park yesterday is the importance of Mark Lynch as a playmaker in the Derry set up.  Might we consider a man marker for him on 25 May or will we manage him via our usual defensive system?

And, when faced with a blanket type defence, we still seemed to run into cul de sacs a little too often. We got the goal from a long ball move (kick out to net was 8 seconds apparently) – we need more of this when faced with such defensive tactics, which we are sure to see again.  It will be interesting to see how Monaghan line up in two weeks time.

The referee frustrated everyone, especially Paul Grimley. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Paul has had serious issues with a referee.  But Colm McFadden felt he got a raw deal as well.  Can they both be right?  I’ve long since made my peace with referees.  Anyone who holds them accountable for results is kidding themselves.  Fergal Kelly also refereed our game against Galway in Salthill and I can’t recall him being especially good or bad that day.  His performance was a non-issue as far as I am concerned.

So, we now face Monaghan in the Division Two Final on 27 April.  In the meantime, Donegal will have been to Portugal for warm weather training and had will have had a double header of All County League fixtures during Easter weekend.  Let’s hope that Mark McHugh recovers and Paddy McGrath makes his return to club action.

Finally, a brief mention for the Donegal Under 21 team, who lost an Ulster Final for a second year running to Cavan in an intense low scoring battle last Wednesday night.  Unlike last year, Donegal actually led in Armagh on Wednesday night and the final score line only begins to tell the story of how the game played out, with Cavan scoring 1-3 out of their final total of 2-6 between the 58th and 63rd minutes (remember that regulation time is 60 minutes at Under 21 level).    Management and players will be bitterly disappointed that they had a two point lead and didn’t see the game out, but we can have no complaints at the effort and endeavour shown, especially in the second half.  The reality is that Donegal were up against a very well prepared team, a ‘professional’ Cavan Under 21 team if you like, with unfettered and exclusive access to their players during the Under 21 Championship.  The approach taken in Donegal seems to suggest that the Senior team manager has access to whatever Under 21 players he wants during the league, and this applies to training as well as matches.  That of course is in the best interests of the Senior team, but it puts us at a disadvantage at Under 21 level.  Is there a better way to arrange things for both teams?

Until Victory, Always

Back on Track (and that’s about the height of it)

Unfortunately, I missed my first league game of 2014 as I wasn’t in the form for the drive to Ballyshannon.  I followed the game via Highland Radio and Twitter, but disappointingly there were no highlights in TG4 on Monday night.  No surprise really.  So what follows are some pretty loose thoughts and opinions built on hearsay, conjecture and various other dubious sources.

Louth seemed to set up very defensively early on, with Donegal benefitting from Louth sitting two deep and conceding frees too easily.  They also suffered two black cards in the first half.  After news filtered through at half time that they had been relegated, Louth appeared to throw caution to the wind and had a right cut at Donegal.

So it seemed a strange game in many respects.  Louth came back to within three points when Donegal were in cruise control mode, and we ended up conceding 3-7, which is more than we have conceded in any other league game this year.  Indeed, overall, we have actually conceded more than either Monaghan or Down (only by a point or two).  We’re in line to match our averaged score conceded from the last time we were in Division Two at just under 13 points per game.  Strangely, we conceded on average two points less per game in the last two years we spent in Division One than we have in Division Two this year.  In a year where scoring in the league overall appears to be up (I am too lazy to research fully), maybe it’s not really surprising and Donegal are merely following this trend, the source of which is being laid partly at Eugene McGee’s door.  Still, in this era of elevated scoring, Donegal have one of the four best defensive records in the country, as tweeted by Niall McCoy of Gaelic Life earlier today.  Is this a genuine reason to be cheerful or a meaningless statistic?  Probably more of the latter – the three teams ahead of us are Cavan, Monaghan and Down in that order.

Given his good form in previous games when introduced as a sub, it was disappointing that Paddy McBrearty failed to score, and seemed to have little impact on the game in general.  In mitigation, he is the main man for the Under 21s so maybe he was holding back given there is an Ulster Semi-Final taking place tonight (Wednesday), and maybe he was asked to hold back by someone?  A tinfoil hat theory, but it suits my narrative.

Of more concern at this stage is the fitness of those who didn’t play versus those that did.  While it was good to see Frank McGlynn getting a rest (assuming of course it is nothing serious), it was concerning that we did not see any of Neil Gallagher, and his lack of game time over the course of the league has been troubling.  Is Jim McGuinness taking note of his advanced years and propensity to sustain injury and wrapping him in cotton wool now to give him the best chance of being fit for the Championship?  Or is his seemingly minor injury more serious that it would appear?  There is also the chance of course that he may now be seen as second choice to Martin McElhinney.  Given McElhinney was pulled before throw in on Sunday, it would have seemed like an ideal point for Neil to make his first start in the League. But, he remained an unused substitute.  I can only assume that was down to injury and no other reason.

We did have some encouraging news on Paddy McGrath last week.  But still no sighting.  He was not ruled out for Sunday’s game against Armagh, but that means little at this point.  It would be great to see him in action, but the fact that he hasn’t played for his club at all yet this year (even if there haven’t been a huge amount of opportunities) makes me wonder if we will see him before the Division Two Final (assuming everything goes according to plan on Sunday of course), or indeed if we will see him before the Championship.  Given that he has now missed over seven months of game time, I would be very concerned about his fitness for Championship, even if there have been hints at rehab work posted on Twitter.  The scenario is just too similar to Karl Lacey’s situation last year for comfort.

What else did we not see on Sunday?  Well, from following on the radio, we seemed to create few goal chances, despite our dominance.  Of course, we got a goal when we probably needed it most and for much of the game it sounded like we were taking what we were given, which is smart football in my opinion.  20/29 chances sounds a lot better than what we saw in the previous two games.  Of course, the standard of the opposition was lower, with Louth likely to have been the worst team we have faced (or will face…) in Division Two this year.

So, we go to Armagh needing a win to ensure we return to Division One for one year at least.  Down’s defeat to Meath and our win over Louth was not quite good enough – if Monaghan and Down win and Donegal lose, we will remain in Division Two.  Armagh have been very up and down this year – drawing with Galway and losing to Louth should tell you enough.  Injuries have been a problem for them, and a loss on Sunday could see them relegated to Division Three.  Wouldn’t that be a shame?  No league win will banish painful orange tinted memories from the noughties, or indeed to shame of Crossmaglen in 2010, but I don’t think I’ll tire of beating Armagh in any competition for a long time yet.

Hopefully Donegal put together a good seventy minutes, something like what we last saw against Laois, which seems like a long time ago now.  Even if we win, we have a three week break until the Division Two Final (very likely to be against Monaghan on 27 April), so it would be nice to win and settle the mood for the next few weeks.  Given that both teams need to win to guarantee progress/safety, I’m hoping for good contest, with Donegal to prevail of course.

Until Victory, Always