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

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