Job Done. Just About.

Well just as most of us didn’t get too excited but what we saw in Armagh, we shouldn’t get too depressed by what we witnessed in Clones a few Saturday’s ago.  Sure, it wasn’t pretty at times, but we got the job done and it’s now 17/18 in Ulster since Year 0 (2010) and our fifth Ulster Final in a row.  Before a ball was kicked in this year’s Championship, I would have taken this outcome regardless of how we got there.

There are of course some fairly serious questions to be asked, especially when you watch the game back.  Donegal looked lethargic enough for long spells.  It’s always tempting to put this down to ‘hard training’ but that is a known unknown.  It could just have been ‘one of those days’, but we have had too many of those lately, so I don’t really want to use that excuse.  But, unless we believe there are very fundamental problems with Rory Gallagher’s team, that seems as good an explanation as any.  Coupled with a bit of ‘hard training’ of course.  No doubt Derry made life hard for us, but that was not the reason for our performance, which was below par.

Donegal again started well, but things began to fall apart when Paddy McBrearty went down for treatment and came up still lame.  We felt he should have been taken off at that point as he didn’t look comfortable and was contributing nothing, forcing others to avoid him with passes.  We also figured that there was no sense in doing him any long term damage.  But, he remained on and appeared out for the second half with a spring in his step.  So what was the problem?  And how was it seemingly solved at half time?

It’s been heartening to see Colm McFadden’s return to form.  For this alone, Rory Gallagher and his management team must receive a lot of credit as he was used sparingly earlier in the year but is showing good form in the early stages of the Championship, in a role where he perhaps is more capable of contributing in than he was seen in last year.  He scored two fine points, although he was the worst offender in terms of number of chances missed, going 2/6, but his conversion rate of 33% was actually better than anyone except Michael Murphy.  I don’t think anyone expects him to reach the heights of 2012 ever again, but I will take what we have seen so far, especially with the likes of McElhinney, MacNiallais and of course McBrearty all well able to score from play also.

The other man we need to acknowledge again is Marty O’Reilly.  All he does is score goals.  Literally!  There’s a real value to being in the right place at the right time and Marty seems to have the knack.  We are no worse off with him starting instead of Leo in terms of scoring, but concerns remain about his overall offering, as in, what does he offer on those days where he doesn’t score a goal?  For now, keep up the goal scoring Marty!  As it was in 2014, it was a goal scored by one of our less heralded half forwards that was essentially the difference between the teams.

Just in case we forgot that this was ‘Rory Gallagher’s team’, Donegal continued as we have seen them play in every game so far.  It seems we play most of our football in the first half, and then take a more conservative approach in the second.  The stats support this, showing 17 shots taken from 25 attacks in the first half versus 12 from 15 in the second.  Hidden behind the stats – Donegal did not score for 20 minutes in the first half and for 25 minutes in the second. That’s pretty shocking!  Our shooting was pretty poor.  It almost seemed like we were shooting any time we had a glimpse of the posts – making bad decisions in the process.  As ever, dontfoul is well worth a read to see the extent of the problem.  This might also explain our low free count in the red zone (again) – we were shooting rather than carrying the ball closer to goal.  Just to emphasise how bad we were, our success rate was 34% against Derry whereas it was 39% against Armagh last summer and 46% against Kerry in the All Ireland Final.

Other stats from the game make for ugly reading.  We had something like 27-29 turnovers, depending on whether you believe Ulster GAA, or dontfoul.  Either way, this was the worst figure so far this Championship season, and around 20% (or five or six turnovers a game) than any game from 2014.  This coupled with the shooting perhaps illustrates it was ‘one of those days’ as both stats are, to be fair, out of character with what we have seen so far this year and even last year.  It’s telling that at least three of the turnovers were from long balls sent into Neil Gallagher at full forward when he was typically double or triple covered.  It might work against man marking, but it seems foolish to continue with it against that kind of marking.  We also had six shots blocked/dropped short.  Must do better.

Defensively, while we only conceded only ten points, but the ease at which Derry were able to take some of their scores was alarming.  It certainly seems that there is a very accommodating amount of space in the centre of our defence in recent games.  I haven’t linked this to the placing of Neil Gallagher at full forward, but it’s something to watch – Neil’s defensive work and positioning is so important.  It was also worrying at the damage caused by Cailean O’Boyle, who was being marked by Eamon McGee.  You don’t like to single out players for criticism, but I think it’s fair to say that Eamon has looked out of sorts for some time now.

In the week following the game, we have learned that Leo McLoone has rejoined the panel.  This is very welcome, even if we have to wonder why it has taken this long.  All reports suggest that he has been playing regularly for Naomh Conaill, so hopefully he is fit enough.  He knows the system and tactics well enough at this stage, so I am optimistic that he can contribute this summer.  His hard running and ability to score a goal would be a most welcome addition for the Ulster Final.

This blog takes longer to update these days because life tends to get in the way more these days than it did last year.  But it also takes me longer to form a view on where we stand.  Over ten days after our last outing and I am still unsure, even after watching the game and the highlights after seeing it in person.  Viewed in isolation, the performance against Derry was not good.  And it was our worst performance relative to our other Championship games this year.  There’s no point in trying to pretend all is well, but we will need to have a bit of faith and see what happens the next day out.  There will be no room for any lack of intensity or accuracy in Clones on 19 July.

Until Victory, Always.


One response to this post.

  1. […] « Job Done. Just About. […]


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