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

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