No Doubt About It

Clones on a heavy July afternoon is no place for the faint hearted.  Donegal stood up and more than measured up to Monaghan on Sunday.  Donegal completed a historic double and proved a point after the disappointments of 2013.  Donegal were hurt after their lacklustre performance and it showed.  Everything that was lacking 12 months ago was there in abundance at the weekend. 

It’s hard to put into words my feeling at the final whistle.  Although we have had recent success, Sunday felt like the end of a famine.  I had felt positive throughout the Championship that we were building towards a performance like this, but it felt great to see it unfold on the Prunty pitch.  It was a game that felt like we were always in control.  Even after Chris McGuinness’ goal, we responded quickly and effectively.  Control has been a common theme all through the Championship, just as it was in 2012.  It’s a warm, comfortable feeling to be sitting there and not worried about losing.

Of course, there has been plenty of negative reaction to the game from the national television meeja and on social media, but I’m not going to rail against that.  I suppose, the reality is, unless you are from Donegal or Monaghan or a real fan of the modern tactics, which often resemble a game of (very) physical chess rather than traditional football, it probably was an ugly game.  But, I guess all you have to say is that people are entitled to their opinion and leave it at that.  I said beforehand that I didn’t care what kind of game it was as long as it was won by Donegal, and so it came to pass.

But, amid what was billed as a dour defensive struggle, there was some wonderful football.  Karl Lacey’s textbook tackle of Dermot Malone.  The seemingly effortless stroke of the ball from Odhran MacNiallais for his three points. Neil Gallagher’s towering catch. Paddy’s flick and point. Michael Murphy’s monster free at the death.  Yes, there were many memorable moments if you are a Donegal supporter.

Our defensive set up was very impressive.  There were no one-on-one situations – there were always enough bodies around to ensure that there was never any danger of a terminal event.  And, there was some excellent defensive play –Lacey’s tackle in the first half, some inventive tap downs to a spare man etc.  Of course our successes our based on the collective rather than the individual, but make no doubt about it, we have some very intelligent and talented defenders.  It was great to see the McGee brothers up to their old mischief, especially after the tough afternoon they endured in 2013.  No better men to goad the opposition.  Neil’s sorties up the field were something that we saw during the league, which just goes to show that it isn’t a complete waste of time going to games in March.

Sure, some things went our way.  Rory Beggan was less than perfect from placed balls, indeed he finished two out of five, with one free and one 45.  Exactly the same return as last year, a result I said that I would have settled for beforehand.  Kieran Hughes may not have been fully fit, and he may have been lucky to stay on the pitch at the end.  We may have been fortunate to avoid conceding a first half penalty.  Monaghan certainly appeared to play into our hands – how else do you explain the miserable return for Conor McManus, who was restricted to one point in added time.  But I don’t think anyone would argue against the proposition that we were the much better team from start to finish and whenever Monaghan threatened we were able to respond. 

That goal was the first that Donegal have conceded from play (well, a penalty rebound is technically from open play as well) in the Ulster Championship during the reign of Jim McGuinness.  It was very well taken by the opportunist Chris McGuinness but it was a bit unfortunate on both Frank McGlynn and Eamonn McGee.  The rest of the defence was perhaps a bit slow to react, but in truth there’s nothing there to worry us for future games.

Neil Gallagher gave us 70 minutes of remarkable energy.  Sure, there were some turnovers that left you frustrated, but otherwise it was a massive performance from a man who has missed so much time this year.  His defensive work is so impressive, especially his knack for often being in the right place at the right time to make an interception or catch a ball under his own crossbar.  The management of his injury and playing time has been excellent.

Ryan McHugh continues to impress.  After a first half when he seemed a bit lost, it looked like he was injured or dazed, he delivered a mini tour de force in the second – full of running, intelligent tackling and passing.  He chipped in with a point that might well have been a goal, but it was enough to get him the official man of the match award and who could argue with that.

As ever, there were negatives, or, if you are a glass half full type, areas for improvement.

Colm McFadden had another fairly below par showing.  There are plenty of people giving out, but when you look back at the game, you will see that he was cheated out of a point by the officials (on a side note, ridiculous that Hawkeye is available for any Championship game in Croke Park and nowhere else) and set up two scores, as well as converting four frees.  He did miss two he probably should have scored, although the first one looked like it was more suited to a right footed kicker and for the second miss, he could well have been put off by the fact his name had been called to come off for Brick Molloy.  Throw in the fact that he was very well marked, often by two men and I don’t think his performance looks as bad.  If nothing else, he’s still drawing attention which gives the likes of Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson and Odhran MacNiallais opportunities to shoot.  Maybe I’m making too many excuses for him, but I just think it’s slightly pointless discussing his form when it’s very unlikely he’s not going to be starting our next game.

Paddy, outstanding, even if he did make a complete hash of that chance in the first half – I was thinking ‘here we go again’ – but other than that – outstanding. I’d love to think this is the start of something special, but we’ve been here before. Let’s just enjoy what he gave us on Sunday and we’ll see what the next day brings.

It was great to see Jim McGuinness run to his players at the final whistle.  That just shows you the bonds that are still there, despite all the challenges over the past 18 months.  This team has endured and the spirit of 2012 is alive and well now.  How far we can go from here remains to be seen, but that’s a question for another day.  In the aftermath, Jim McGuinness said that this win was not a statement of intent; it was an Ulster Final, a game to be won and nothing else (although he said something a little more revealing later on in Donegal Town).  And he’s half right.  For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the fact that we’re Ulster Champions again.  It’s been too long.

Until Victory, Always.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Antrim was a non-event, other than the performance of Odhran MacNiallais and a cameo from Jigger.  Monaghan was an arm wrestle, but one where it looked like we were always the better team.  Armagh was an odd game.  Sunday, […]

    Reply

  2. […] we were comfortable enough winners, although watching that game back earlier this year, perhaps it wasn’t as good as I had thought at the time.  I actually hope both teams are able to give 100% on Sunday and we get a full blooded game with […]

    Reply

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