Posts Tagged ‘Armagh’

Orange Crushed

Well, few of us expected that result in Armagh (except maybe Michael Hegarty apparently…).  But let’s be honest, as good as Donegal played, Armagh were very poor.  The bigger question is perhaps how did Armagh get to within a point of us last summer?  The standard in Division Three can only explain so much.  Tactically and physically they did not look an Ulster Championship outfit.  No more than Kerry folk will get too excited by beating Tipperary or Cork folk will celebrate a facile win over Clare, we should not read too much into what we saw in Armagh.  Contrast their display with Sligo’s performance against Roscommon.  Just last Sunday, Monaghan beat Fermanagh by 10 points.  This is not the business end of the season.

Still, you can only beat what’s in front of you and the once daunting road to an Ulster title that lay ahead of Donegal has been safely negotiated as far as the next checkpoint.  What is evident is that we seem to be managing games differently under Rory.  Against both Tyrone and Armagh, we have made fast starts and built up a lead early on.  Tyrone pegged us back; Armagh never managed to get close.  It will be very interesting to see if this pattern persists in future games.

The tactic of playing Paddy McBrearty as a lone forward yielded a goal straight away.  Thereafter, he caused distress to the Armagh defence, but they succeeded in limiting his return to one more point. He was a little unlucky at times and could have perhaps received a bit more sympathy from David Coldrick, but in general he was good.  I don’t know if that tactic will work as well against better teams who play with more disciplined sweepers than Ciaran McKeever.  Someone playing closer to Paddy will give him more options than having to take on his man every time he gets the ball and will surely lead to even greater returns.

The second half hardly merits comment.  The game was definitively over when in the space of a few minutes, Stefan Campbell failed to convert Jamie Clarke’s rebounded shot for a goal and then Marty O’Reilly finished well following a piercing run by the outstanding Frank McGlynn.   After that, Donegal largely played keep ball, rarely exerting too much effort to breach the Armagh defence.  Armagh didn’t seem too pushed at putting us under pressure which was odd given that they were so far behind.  But maybe not, maybe their minds had also turned to their next game.  Wicklow will present the perfect opportunity for them to get back on track.

I suppose from a Donegal perspective the one thing you would have to say is that we really look comfortable in the way we are playing.  There are still a few things that concern me.  First, we need to do better around midfield.  Our reading of breaking ball is poor, or we are just not committing men to where they are needed – perhaps that is deliberate.    Take a look at the stats from the Tyrone game and from the Armagh game which back up this view.  Secondly, some of our hand passing gets a little too intricate and leads to turnovers or sticky situations that could easily be avoided – look particularly at incidents involving MacNiallais and Lacey in the last two games.  If we were trying long risky passes, then I would expect some mistakes.   Lastly, we appear vulnerable to teams that run directly at us – but who isn’t I suppose? I would worry that both Tyrone and Armagh were allowed shots on goal that came from fairly straightforward build up play.  Neither went in, but that was due more to good fortune than good defending.  None of these issues may cost us the next game, but I don’t think we can afford to ignore them.

And so, for the fourth time in five years we play near neighbours Derry.  2011 Ulster Final (six point win), 2012 first round (10 point win), 2014 first round (three point win) and now a semi-final.  The big change for Derry in terms of personnel is that Eoin Bradley is back and was in good form against Down.  It’s fair to also point out that the influential Fergal Doherty was forced off early last May.  Against Down, there was no Pasty Bradley, with Niall Holly, (who had played at full back during the league) partnering Doherty in the middle.  It seemed to work pretty well against Down, with Derry having the upper hand on longer kick outs.  This should be a concern for Donegal as we have struggled in this area lately.  But, from the same game, the stats seem to suggest that Derry were careless in possession – music to our ears surely.

Derry actually led by two points at half time last year, but as was customary, the Jim McGuinness edition blew them away with a third quarter surge.  I will long remember watching Jim ‘directing’ Michael Murphy to swing over a sideline ball from under the covered stand.  With the form Michael is in, Derry will need to be very careful what and where they concede on Saturday night.  It’s worth pointing out that our captain has yet to score from play in this year’s Ulster Championship.  It’s fascinating how his role on this team continues to evolve.

Consider this – Derry failed to score for 21 minutes, at home, against the 14 men of Down.  It was however their first Ulster Championship win since 2011, so perhaps they had some form of white line fever.  But for the woeful Down shooting, never mind the sending off early in the second half, Derry were fortunate enough to win.  Down had the ball heading to 70 minutes and kicked it wide when they could have worked a better shooting chance.  They then failed to foul Derry until they advanced all the way inside the Derry 20.  Awful stuff altogether and I would hope we wouldn’t see anything similar from Donegal this weekend.

Derry look like they will set up very defensively, with Eoin Bradley left up front on his own, and Mark Lynch playing deeper than a traditional number 11.  Enda Lynn and Sean Leo McGoldrick will play as link men from wing forward, both work very hard and are good footballers.  In short, Derry will set up very like Donegal.  But Donegal have been perfecting this system for over four years and it’s second nature to them.  It’s largely new to Derry and Down had plenty of chances to win the game despite Derry’s defensive set up.

No harm recalling that Leo McLoone scored 1-1 and Jigger 0-1 against Derry last May.   Neither player will feature this year, so guys like Paddy McBrearty and Odhran MacNiallais will need to contribute more.  Paddy was a little wasteful in last year’s game so hopefully he will have recovered from his hamstring strain to be in a position to deliver on Saturday.  He’s been in excellent form lately, even if he tends to fade out of games in the second half.  That might be due to the way Donegal set up as opposed to the player himself and he obviously wasn’t fit enough to finish the game last time but it’s worth monitoring.

It was disappointing not to see Colm McFadden against Armagh after his encouraging display against Tyrone.  If he does come back into the team, you would assume he will take Marty O’Reilly’s place.  But would he fulfil the same role as O’Reilly?  At half time in Armagh, we were trying to figure out exactly what role Marty was playing.  It almost seemed like he was nothing more than a warm body occupying an Armagh defender.  For what it’s worth, it was suggested that they would forget about him and he would end up sneaking in for a goal.  The guy can obviously take a chance when he gets it, but it seems that this isn’t his main role on the team.  He doesn’t carry much ball either.

We should take nothing for granted, but it will be a huge shock to me if Derry beat us on Saturday.  I trust our players too much not to get caught looking ahead and focus on the game in hand.  This Donegal team has won 15 out of 16 Ulster Championship matches going back to 2011. They have played and beaten every team in Ulster barring Fermanagh in this time.  This Derry team will have to play the game of their lives to beat us, or we will need to be hampered by injuries to the likes of Paddy McBrearty, or, more importantly, Michael Murphy, who looked hobbled at the end of the game in Armagh.  Don’t expect a pretty game, it will likely be a hard enough slog, especially if Derry are really focused on defence.  And maybe they will have gotten a boost in confidence from their first Ulster Championship win in four years.  As Rory Gallagher likes to say, each game takes on a life of its own.   He may be right enough there, but that doesn’t mean that the outcome will be any different than the one expected.

Until Victory, Always

The Same but Different

So Donegal beat Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.  Again.  That’s four times in five years.  The faces on the sideline have changed, but the result is the same.  But, at no point during the second half did I feel comfortable about what I was seeing, but at the end of the day, if you had offered me a three point win beforehand, I would have gladly taken it.  I’m glad that I didn’t start writing without watching the game back and taking a good bit of time to reflect on everything as my initial reaction was probably one of relief and concern.  Subsequent discussion and reflection have tempered those feelings.

We were fortunate in some respects.  Darren McCurry’s free taking was poor.  Mickey Harte’s decision to start two underage stars didn’t really work out.  The Sean Cavanagh of five years ago would have been an even more influential player.  As it was, he had a fine game, with the usual antics thrown in.  At the same time, Michael O’Neill had a brilliant game in goals.  What they lost from Morgan’s free taking (assuming his returns would have been better than McCurry’s and his own performance in Ballybofey in 2013) was offset by O’Neill’s performance between the posts.

One thing that struck me was the lack of scorable frees we won.  Other than Michael’s tap over late on, that was it really.  Anything else was much deeper.  It’s hard to say what the reason for this was.  Maybe Tyrone’s tackling was that good.  Maybe Joe McQuillan didn’t give us the benefit of the doubt as much as he seemed to do when Tyrone were attacking.  Or, maybe we didn’t attack Tyrone enough to make them foul us – the stats seem to lend some weight to this idea with Donegal having 31 attacks to Tyrone’s 43.  Perhaps it was a combination of all of these factors.  I will be keen to see the stats at the end of Sunday’s game to see if anything changes.

In the immediate aftermath, it was tempting to give Justin McMahon credit for a very effective job on Michael Murphy.  It all appeared legal, but there are suggestions that there was plenty going on that wasn’t picked up by the cameras and was missed from the stand.  All the same, it was an interesting tactic and I wonder if Armagh have anyone as bloody minded to shadow Michael for 70 minutes on Sunday.  Massive credit must go to Michael for keeping his cool and still having the composure for this monster scores from placed balls at the end.  It was good to see Paddy McBrearty and Colm McFadden show well at times.  If Colm especially can maintain form, that will give teams more to think about than just Michael.  Armagh will be doing well to keep all three quiet.  I would be hopeful too that we might see a bit more from Odhran MacNiallais the next day out.

The issue with what I saw from Donegal against Tyrone and how I feel ahead of Sunday is largely one of trust.  Jim McGuinness earned our trust over is four years in charge.  Even at half time in last year’s All Ireland Final, I felt good about where we were at during games where Jim was in charge.  At half time in Ballybofey two weeks ago, I felt that if we came out and reeled off a few scores, we would effectively put the game to bed, a pattern that we came to regard as the ‘third quarter surge’ under McGuinness.  But instead, Tyrone drew level and we didn’t pull away until much later than normal.  In fairness, Tyrone didn’t score from the 50th minute onwards, but they had several goal chances.  Worse than that, it was our failure to maintain possession late that bothered me most.

We probably learned a few unpleasant truths the last day.  First, Marty O’Reilly doesn’t seem to add much to the half forward line.  This wasn’t exactly a surprise, as his performances during the League bordered on anonymous (Cork in Ballyshannon aside), but I was looking forward to see if he had more to offer.  To be fair, an early booking may have cowed him, and, it seemed that perhaps he was charged with shadowing one of Tyrone’s more dangerous players, Mattie Donnelly.  Still, the booking was his own fault, and Donnelly did manage to exert some influence on the game at times.  If the team named for Sunday is the one that starts, O’Reilly has lost out.

The next was that Ryan McHugh should not start with any number lower than 10 on his back.  I had my concerns about his ability to play as a corner back last year, but now it’s apparent that he shouldn’t be used at half back either.  He may well have been at fault for the Tyrone goal – although Paddy McGrath may need to shoulder a fair degree of blame too, but he is also ill suited to stopping opposing attackers.  His talents are surely better utilised further up the pitch or at least in a more.  This is the current Young Player of the Year and he did not win it for his defensive work. Whisper it, but is there any danger that Ryan has been ‘figured out’?  As a team, Donegal did not have a good day, but above anyone else, he was anonymous in the All Ireland Final.  If Sunday’s team named is to be believed, we may well get to see Ryan play in a more advanced role with less defensive responsibility.  That can only be a good thing I guess, but I would still be worried that even though he is an intelligent and unselfish player, his size will begin to limit his effectiveness.

It was notable also that despite featuring often during the League, there was no sign of Hugh McFadden against Tyrone.  This despite Christy Toye sailing close to the wind with foul trouble and looking  visibly tired for long enough before he was eventually subbed.  McFadden might have been able to offer something and it would have been good to see him in action in a Championship setting.  But most people I speak to feel he is not good enough anyway – I am on the fence.  Has Rory Gallagher now come to that conclusion also?

And so, while Tyrone get another week to get ready to welcome Limerick to Omagh, Donegal must journey to Armagh.  It’s hard to analyse Armagh in too much detail given they spent the spring loitering in Division Three.  If Donegal were playing any other Division Three team, would we be too concerned?  No, but because this is Ulster and because of the fright we got last August and because of what happened over and over in the first decade of this century, we will fret more than we, in theory, need to.  Last year, Armagh had the benefit of a series of tough games – Cavan, Monaghan (twice), Roscommon and Meath in the lead up to facing Donegal.  They have had no such preparation this year.  On the flipside, they will have had this date circled in their calendar for around nine months now, without having to worry about too much else. I also think that  Armagh will miss the playmaking abilities and experience of Aaron Kernan as much as Donegal will miss Rory Kavanagh and Leo McLoone.  And, the lad who I feel caused us the most bother last year, ‘Soupy’ Campbell, has missed around three months with injury, but will likely be available on Sunday.  Still, close as they ran us last year, that is a game we should have won more comfortably.  If you don’t believe me, check out the stats.  I don’t know if Donegal are any better or worse than we were last year (I feel that we are worse, but we’ll see…), but I have no idea whether Armagh have improved or not.  We’ll find out on Sunday I guess.  Hopefully Rory Gallagher and his associates have a better handle on things than me.

Until Victory, Always.

What is Rare is Wonderful

There is a little Irish saying that goes ‘An rud is annamh is iontach’ which roughly translated means ‘what is rare is wonderful’.  Like a Neil McGee point, a championship win over Armagh is a rare thing indeed and we should celebrate it.

For anyone who wants to get a good feeling for how the game played out, I suggest you read the excellent dontfoul review of the numbers.  Nothing suprising in them, but it’s worth reminding ourselves of how off key certain elements of our performance were.

Personally, I thought that the performance on Saturday was decent, but the execution of shots was poor. We were dominant for a large part of the second half but missed too many chances. Sure, Armagh had their missed chances as well, but we ultimately had more shots. Our turnover rate was too high however; this is something that will also need to improve.  In many ways it was a classic favourite’s performance – winning ugly after giving the underdog false hope.

You have to credit our composure and experience to get level and then kick the winner late in the game. At one stage with 10 minutes left, I was worried that if Armagh had gone two up we were done. We still did our best to give Armagh a chance to level, with Paul Durcan’s kickout heading directly over the sideline and then Paddy McBrearty (who had been subbed at this stage) kicking the ball away and giving Joe McQuillan to excuse he needed to award a scoreable free (incidentally, @dowdsie is adamant that this was wrong on the part of the ref).  Either way, it was a sloppy way to see out the game. 

Jim McGuinness has said that he wasn’t happy with what he saw.  Support runners, kickouts (Paul Durcan kicked three to Armagh players from which they scored 1-03), composure on the ball and shot selection all featured as areas where we didn’t deliver on what we had (apparently) been working on in training.  Those are all pretty obvious areas where we were deficient I guess, and it’s good that we have something to work on over the next three weeks.

The McGee brothers, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn, Big Neil, and Michael Murphy all played very well I thought. Rory Kavanagh also for the time he was on.   But no-one player really stood out and no-one really played that badly either, I felt that it was a real collective effort that got us over the line at the end. 

Karl Lacey was hobbled early on and this really seemed to limit his effectiveness as the game wore on, indeed it is curious to me that he wasn’t replaced as surely a fully fit player would have had more of an impact in the second half.  Chirsty Toye and Leo McLoone were replaced earlier than I expected, but I guess they do get through a lot of work and I am sure they are being monitored carefully. 

On Colm McFadden, he had another tough afternoon.  His performance was then picked apart on the Sunday Game which won’t have been nice for him to watch.  But, credit to him for his point in the second half where I thought he showed good composure – we needed the score and if he had gone for goal and missed, it could really have hurt us. I thought it was interesting to see it from another perspective as well – on the Armagh fans forum everyone reckoned that his marker Finian Moriarty did a fine job on him.  Still, on balance, I think he’s become a bit of a liability.  I take no pleasure in saying that, and there’s always the chance it will look foolish, but I think anyone who has been watching this year has been saying much the same since Saturday.

Paddy McBrearty was ultimately our match winner, but right from the whistle I thought ‘here we go again’ and he did end up with more wides/missed shots than scores. Still, he showed great composure to kick the winner. But, it was extremely stupid to boot the ball away that (rightly or wrongly) gave Armagh one last chance.  For someone who only turned 21 years of age last week it’s only fair we cut him some slack and focus on the positives – he now has important contributions in the last two championship games to build on.  With Colm struggling, we really need Paddy to step up.

For Odhran MacNiallais, it was a similar story to Paddy – too many wides. But, he took the goal very well and credit to him for not letting his head drop in the second half to kick an important score.  He’s our top scorer from play in the championship to date and we are really relying on those scores in recent games.

Ryan McHugh gave another energetic display but was caught out a few times, not least for the goal when somehow he was the man left contesting with Stefan Campbell on the edge of the square.  He was also culpable of a turnover late on when he received a Michael Murphy free although we are not clear on the circumstances as the TV cameras didn’t pick it up.  We need to do a better job of ensuring that we get his match ups right, although that is going to be a struggle against Dublin.

The most startling statistic is that Armagh outscored Donegal 1-5 to 0-07 in the second half. But, when you consider that we had only 13 scores but 15 wides, you understand the context. Watching the game back you noticed that we established our usual third quarter dominance on the pitch but not on the scoreboard.  Is it any wonder Armagh gained confidence and picked off a goal to leave us poor craythurs in the stands wondering if we were doomed to yet another defeat to the Orchard County?  At least the lads on the pitch knew better.

Before throw in, I would have taken any kind of win over what we saw during last year’s All Ireland Quarter Final in Croke Park. Add the fact that the game was full of needle and we went behind very late on and you can appreciate the victory more.  Let’s savour it for a while; we have beaten Armagh in a significant championship match.  We will have plenty of time to worry about the Dubs over the next three weeks.

Until Victory, Always

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

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