Archive for March, 2015

The Usual Swings and Roundabouts in Division One

As we head into the final two scheduled games of this year’s Division One League, let’s take a look at where Donegal stand. I had started writing something after the first two games and got sidetracked. I’m kind of glad that I did because so much has happened since, and yet, what have we learned?

It’s wise never to read too much, if anything, into league performances and results. At the outset, I said that we shouldn’t get too excited about beating a fairly poor looking Derry team. Subsequent results and performances by the Oakleafers have confirmed that point and they could well lose every game.

In saying that, it was disappointing not to beat a Dublin team missing many of their better players and reduced to 14 men for most of the second half. Our main problem that night was a lack of accuracy in front of the posts, a theme becoming too common for my liking, and one that pre dates this year. We also conceded two goals from players running hard through the centre of our defence. I also felt that we didn’t show enough urgency in the second half – it felt like the game felt more to Dublin, not surprising perhaps.

My takeaway from the Cork game was that they weren’t exactly too pushed about the result, until the Michael Murphy red card, when it finally dawned on them that the game was there to be won. The highlight from that game was four points from play from Marty O’Reilly, but his performances before and after the Cork game suggests that this was something of a flash in the pan. Cork played very defensively, even with the wind. Whether this was designed with the summer in mind or whether they felt that this gave them the best chance of beating Donegal isn’t clear. In difficult conditions, twelve points was ok I guess.

Then came the infamous game against Monaghan in Letterkenny. A match that literally brought children to tears (I was in the company of one such misfortunate child). I can’t recall ever attending as bad a game previously. It was a pretty shameful display considering (a) Donegal were at home; (b) we fielded what is very close to a full strength team; and (c) Monaghan were missing two starters through suspension and lost arguably their best player to a black card during the first half. Donegal’s lack of intensity and imagination in trying to overcome Monaghan’s ultra defensive set up was puzzling. Even if we accept that training is currently tailored towards the summer, one score from play in seventy minutes of football is not acceptable on a day when conditions were not bad at all. Even though coverage of the game was virtually non-existent, there were a lot of column inches and hot air given to seemingly imminent death of football, especially after Tyrone had employed similar tactics to Monaghan in their televised game against Dublin the night before. In general, I don’t think we need rule changes to address this issue, what we need is courage and imagination from opposing managers. On that Sunday in Letterkenny, there was a lack of imagination shown by Donegal for sure. One could make the argument that we wouldn’t want to show our hand ahead of the summer, where we will surely face similar defensive set ups, but again, I don’t accept that we couldn’t find some middle ground that would have allowed us to beat Monaghan on that Sunday in O’Donnell Park.
Still, I’m glad I didn’t go nuts after Letterkenny. It was only one game after all.

The trip to Tralee was a little bit more rewarding, even if we left empty handed. The level of performance was much better, even if there still appears to be plenty to work on. Much of our passing was sloppy and we turned the ball over too much in the Kerry half. Our full back line was a bit of a shambles. Perhaps they are suffering due to a different defensive approach, maybe they are just out of sorts generally. Again, you need to look at the two teams selected. Donegal were short Frank McGlynn and Odhran MacNiallais, but compared to Kerry, we were very much at full strength. Our captain in particular had a very subdued game, although he did recover his form on dead balls, having had an off day in Letterkenny the previous game. I guess the most disappointing thing about the performance in Tralee was that if we had applied ourselves even half as well in Letterkenny, we would surely have beaten Monaghan.

In the five games played to date, team selection has been relatively conservative. We are seeing more of Hugh McFadden, Marty O’Reilly and Eamonn Doherty, but all of these players have been involved previously. And these moves could well be out of necessity as much as anything else when you consider that Anthony Thompson has only made himself available lately, Rory Kavanagh has retired and Leo McLoone has chosen not to make himself available. None of the three has really stood out, all have done relatively ok at times, but it doesn’t feel like we have unearthed any new starters for the Championship. It feels like we will really miss Leo McLoone come the summer but it’s good to see Thompson back. I don’t know why Declan Walsh hasn’t been seen. It’s concerning too that Jigger, a player who started the All Ireland Final remember, hasn’t been involved. At this stage, you have to believe that he will have more of an impact off the bench than Colm McFadden. I was really looking forward to seeing Eoin McHugh in action, but injury has limited him to cameos against Monaghan and Kerry. Ciaran McGinley started against Derry but hasn’t appeared since.
From the more familiar faces, the likes of Neil Gallagher, Frank McGlynn and Christy Toye have, largely, shown good form for this time of the year. Paddy McBrearty is beginning to show more and more that he belongs in the starting team and that’s great to see. The more and more Michael Murphy is seen playing deep, the more we need Paddy to feature as a scoring threat. He has always had the talent, it’s hard to say what was missing, but his form suggests that he may have addressed it. Maybe Rory Gallagher deserves some of the credit here. Time will tell I guess.

We now face a fight for survival in the top division. A win against Tyrone in Ballybofey might see us safe, but there’s a good chance that this will go to the last day. Monaghan face Kerry in Killarney on Sunday, a game I would expect them to lose. They have a home date with the Dubs on the final day, Tyrone have Kerry at home and Donegal travel to Castlebar. Home advantage will be a factor for Tyrone and Monaghan, but it’s likely that all teams, except maybe Kerry, will have something to play for. After their horror shows at home against Tyrone and Dublin, I just can’t see Mayo taking the game less than seriously, especially if they need to win to make a semi-final. I have a feeling we might just stay up, but only if we win this weekend in Ballybofey. It will be intriguing to see how both teams approach the game, given that both need to win, and yet neither will want to give too much away ahead of the Ulster Championship meeting at the same venue in seven weeks time. I almost wish I could be there, but it looks like I will have to make do with Highland Radio. Things could always be worse I suppose.

Until Victory, Always.