Posts Tagged ‘Tyrone’

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.


Under Pressure

You only have to look at the photo of Jim McGuinness taken at the final whistle on Sunday to see what this win means to him. And to the rest of us in Donegal. This win was as big a statement as Kildare in 2011 or Cork in 2012. We’re Ulster and All Ireland Champions and we’re not going to surrender either title without one hell of a fight.

Donegal played with the confidence of champions on Sunday. Despite being second best for much of the first half, a timely goal, brilliantly taken by Colm McFadden, meant that we actually led by two points at half time. Despite that, Donegal were the ones who were kept back in the dressing room at half time. I can only imagine at what might have been said to them by Jim McGuinness. Tyrone scored all of three points in the second half. The delay was worth it.

The fact that the Donegal goals came when Tyrone had their first lead and when they had tied up the game again was no accident. There was no opportunism involved; they were both very deliberate acts. Both started with quickly taken free kicks and both involved Paddy McBrearty. Think back to the All Ireland Final – Donegal have now scored four goals in their last two Championship games. Three of those four have come from what appear to be planned moves (Colm McFadden’s goal in the Final was pure opportunism). Jim McGuinness said afterwards that goals mean a lot in Championship football. They made the difference on Sunday and on 23 September last year.

In their last meeting, Donegal scored 12 points and Tyrone scored 10 points. This year, Donegal scored 2-10 and Tyrone scored….10 points. In fact, Tyrone have scored nine points, 10 points and 10 points in their last three Championship meetings with Donegal. Donegal were 33% better this year than in 2012 on the scoreboard. Tyrone may have looked good during the League, but they were running to stand still. Donegal are the ones who have kicked on in 2013. I said before the game that Tyrone were the team under pressure before this game, and so it was – Donegal won all the physical and psychological battles, and finished the game as the team on top, winning both halves.

We started without two All Stars, Karl Lacey and Mark McHugh. A third All Star, Frank McGlynn, didn’t look fit to start with and didn’t last long. Neil Gallagher and Anthony Thompson were not 100% either. Anyway, the point is that while Tyrone were able to field their first choice fifteen, Donegal weren’t really playing with a full deck. All this makes the victory even more impressive. When Karl Lacey especially returns to fitness, this team is capable of greater performances – even with the injuries, we weren’t perfect on Sunday, but showed we have the hunger that people. An awesome prospect and one which I don’t think any team will relish facing. If Tyrone were under pressure last Sunday, how will other opposition feel facing the All Ireland Champions?

Impressive too was the player who has promised much but not always delivered for Donegal. Paddy McBrearty came of age last Sunday. He scored 0-2, assisted for both goals, and bagged the man of the match award. Three years after he made his Senior début against Antrim on the same ground, Paddy showed me what I have been waiting to see for the past two years. I said that I wouldn’t believe he had it in him until I saw him to do it, so shame on me for not believing. Ross Wherrity too was impressive when coming on for Leo McLoone. I had my doubts about whether he was ready for the intensity or Championship football and I was disappointed he wasn’t chipping in with scores in the League. He proved me wrong on the intensity front and of course got on the end of Paddy McBreaty’s great run. More of the same please Paddy and Ross.

People will point to the fact that Tyrone had plenty of possession and shots at goal. True of course, but not necessarily a cause for concern. Sure, Niall Morgan had a less than stellar day, shooting 1 from 6 from dead balls, but not all of these chances were ‘gimmes’. The free that Stephen O’Neill missed was from a relatively acute angle (even though he was successful in making life a bit easier for himself as is usually the way with frees taken from the hands). Donegal don’t give away chip shots in front of goal. Fouls are given away in strategically significant areas. Nothing new there really, Morgan’s lack of success on Sunday is getting undue attention due in part to (a) his performance against Dublin in the League Final; and (b) the fact that he was dumb enough to react to the crowd. Donegal have faced free takers as accomplished as Morgan in the past (think of Cillian O’Connor in the All-Ireland Final) – they have yet to be undone by long range frees in Championship (under Jim McGuinness) at least.

We can only hope that Anthony Thompson is not seriously injured – what an important player he has become. Frank too – he seems to have been struggling with injury for a while. I am all for resting him for as long as possible. We can play Eamonn McGee at corner back and Declan Walsh can fill in at wing back. Not bad. If anything, I’d like to see Ryan McHugh get some time against Derry/Down – just to introduce him to the pitch of Championship football lest we need him later on in the year.

Many Donegal supporters, and nearly all neutrals, would love to see Micheal Murphy play at full forward. I would too, but he may actually have more of an impact when he plays further out the field. It was his long free that found Paddy McBrearty who flicked the ball on to McFadden for the first goal. It was also him who was there to make several important interventions in defence late in the game. Would you rather if he was loitering around the opposition goals with no ball coming his way? That is likely to be the alternative in a lot of games. But he’s still available to move into the edge of the square to great effect, just like he was last September. Let’s trust that Jim and Rory know best how and when to deploy him.

Anyone who knows me and has talked to me lately knows that I am confident that we will win the Ulster Championship again this year (or rather I believed whoever won on Sunday would win Ulster). Some might call it arrogance; others have referred to it as ‘disrespectful’ to potential opponents. I am taking nothing for granted, but I prefer to think of it as realism. We’ve beaten the only other team anyone was talking about as potential Ulster Champions. It would be a huge shock and a massive disappointment if we don’t win a historic provincial three in a row.

You won’t hear any of that kind of talk coming from Jim McGuinness. The focus will be on Derry or Down. In all the interviews since, there have been so many great quotes. The one that stood out was a reference to ‘next year’. That has lifted the spirits even more. We’re lucky to have him in Donegal. The fact that he’s one of our own makes it even better.

Until Victory, Always.

Ready for the Red Hand

Which is harder? Winning a first All Ireland in 20 years, or retaining the All Ireland for the first time ever? I guess we will soon find out. No matter what happens in 2013, we will always have a magical summer from 2012 to remember. Let’s savour that for a minute before looking ahead.

I’d really like Donegal to win this game well. Paul Durcan’s incredible save is pretty much everyone’s recollection of last season’s encounter, whereas my own view is that Donegal were more on top than the final score line and last few minutes of the game suggested. But, does the score line and performance really matter? The result is surely all that matters, right? Right. Compared to Antrim and Cavan, Tyrone represent the sternest challenge Donegal will have faced in the opening round under Jim McGuinness. Getting back into winning habits after a lacklustre League campaign is the most important thing – the sparkling performances can come later.

Many pundits maintain that Donegal were ‘lucky’ in 2012. Well, we are already lucky again in 2013. When Donegal were last All Ireland Champions in 1993, we made it as far as the Ulster Final before losing out to Derry (who of course went on to be All-Ireland Champions) on a wet day in Clones. This year, we face one of our biggest challenges in our first game – no point in trying to be coy, if we can beat Tyrone, we should go on to win the Ulster Championship. But even if we lose on Sunday, this team gets a second chance – something that Molloy, McHugh and Boyle were denied back in 1993. Nobody is thinking about the Qualifier route, but after watching Armagh and Galway last weekend, I think it’s reasonable to assume that Donegal will still be involved in the Championship come August. So even if we lose to Tyrone on Sunday, It’s not the end of the world (I can’t promise I won’t sound like it is if we do lose).

I had a blog drafted in the wake of the drawn game with Dublin that led to Donegal’s relegation to Division Two. I never got round to finishing it, and it’s probably just as well. But for a kick of a ball, or perhaps another team getting a result, Donegal would have retained their Division One status, and would have been no better or worse off versus their position in the 2012 National Football League. Recall as well that in 2011, when we played in Division Two, we made it to an All Ireland Semi-Final and could well have gone further. Jim McGuinness has been consistent in his message and his methods throughout the spring – the focus is always on the Championship. The same is true of any team that views themselves as a contender I guess, but the truth of it is that Donegal’s game plan requires a level of fitness that no team came close to matching in 2011. There are no half measures with Jim’s approach – it appears to be all or nothing. We saw literally nothing during the League. It has all been saved for the Championship.

I guess one thing I would have liked to see in the League (aside from staying in Division One…) would have been the emergence of one or two players who could challenge our starters, or at least fit in seamlessly should a key player go down with injury. Both Ryan McHugh and Ross Wherrity saw significant game time, but does anyone feel confident that either would be worthy of their place in a Championship XV? Ryan maybe, but Ross still looks like he needs further development. To be fair, Declan Walsh played in two Championship games in 2011 and played quite well during the League, and indeed talk on the podcast is that he has been playing very well for Malin in the All County League, so if Karl Lacey is not ready to go on Sunday, we should feel confident that Declan Walsh can do a job in the half back line. But the bench is not as deep as the one which Mickey Harte will have at his disposal. If David Walsh is available, we’re in better shape.

So how will Tyrone win this game? If you recall the 2011 like I do, you felt that Tyrone lost the game that day due to their poor accuracy from the dead ball (as well as two timely goals from Donegal). Last year they didn’t fare much better. While Donegal scored six out of seven (with the only miss coming from a sideline), Tyrone only managed three from eight. Unless Morgan gets a case of the yips (this did happen on more than one occasion this year), expect that Tyrone will kick any relatively straightforward frees and indeed any 45s. Donegal will need to be extremely disciplined, and not just in fouling, but in dissent etc as well – recall from the National League game in Omagh how Joe McQuillan moved a free forward after Neil McGee prevented a quick free being taken allowing Morgan to slot over. Add in the return of Sean Cavanagh, and Tyrone have, in theory, improved enough on paper to close the gap from the end of the 2012 meeting.

So Tyrone have improved. Donegal have not yet shown that they have improved. Indeed, despite Jim McGuinness’ assertion that this team could improve by 15-20%, I’m not sure how much more we can expect to see this year. Even getting back to the level we were operating at last year would be a wonderful achievement in itself. With the injuries to Karl Lacey and nagging concerns over Mark McHugh and Frank McGlynn, this could be a tall order for Sunday. But, if you recall, Michael Murphy started off last year’s Championship short of fitness, and truth be told, it didn’t seem like he was himself until the All-Ireland Final. His displays in the Sigerson Cup hinted at a great season ahead, but his form in the League was more subdued. The truth of it is, Tyrone have no-one who can dominate like Michael can dominate. If he was being deliberately held back during the League, an unstoppable force could be unleashed at MacCumhaill Park on Sunday. And there’s your 20%.

Karl Lacey’s lack of game time might be a concern. But it would appear that his rehabilitation programme was tailored to making it back to fitness for this game. There was never any talk that he would make a cameo in the League. If Karl can give us 60-70 good minutes on Sunday, surely we can rest him for an Ulster Semi-Final if we win – whoever we meet would not present the same challenge as Tyrone. I think when you have the best player in the Country available; you will want to have him play in what could be a defining moment in your season. My instinct (and that’s all it is) is that Karl will play on Sunday.

So, the starting 15 on Sunday should be the same as that which took the field on 23 September last year. With eight All-Stars, and a few more who can reasonably feel that they were unlucky to lose out, so let’s not worry too much that we haven’t got the ‘fresh faces’ many seem to feel are necessary for renewed success in 2013. Trust in the players that got us to the Promised Land last year. Trust in the man who directed their journey. Forget everything that we saw or didn’t see from Donegal during the League. Believe that this group of players and their manager will be every bit as good this year as they were last year.

Jim McGuinness has ‘Bitegate’, the County Board’s reneging on an agreement regarding fixtures, some of the posturing by the Tyrone players during the National League game in Omagh, and the general consensus in the National media that Donegal can’t repeat their success of last year ‘just because’ to use as motivation for his team. Not to mention Donegal now have the chance to win an unprecedented third Ulster Championship in a row. Whether he actually needs of any of this as motivation is another matter – Jim’s mantra of self-improvement might be enough for this group of players.

I think that this will be a tight game and probably a low scoring affair. A scoreline of something like 0-14 to 0-12 feels about right. A draw wouldn’t be a surprise. While I don’t necessarily think that defeat will do our All-Ireland prospects much harm, I shudder at the thought nonetheless. The backlash after Donegal’s attitude towards the National League and the whole notion of ‘Jimmy’s Spinning Matches’ will be fierce – I’m not sure I’m ready for that just yet.

But given that we have the best manager and the best player in the Country, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t feel confident. The pressure is on Tyrone, who are facing into a third successive Championship defeat to Donegal. They are the ones who need to up their game to our level. Tyrone seemed to take such satisfaction from their win in Omagh, with much posturing after scores. Tyrone have been hearing about how Donegal have been focused on the 26 May all year.

It’s that focus and the fact that I believe this team still has more to give that makes me believe we will overcome Tyrone on Sunday.

Until Victory, Always

A League Of His Own

Let me start with a brief rant.

It’s ironic that Donegal (and Michael Murphy in particular) are the poster boys for the GAA’s TV ads telling us that we should ‘think again’ when wondering whether or not the National League ‘lacks intensity’ takes place against a backdrop where Jim McGuinness is proclaiming that it wouldn’t matter ‘if we lost all our games in the league’.

This is a bit of a bugbear of mine.  Of course I’d rather we do well in the All Ireland than the League, but is doing well in both mutually exclusive?  People will point to Cork – winners of the last two National League titles, but knocked out at quarter-final stage in the All Ireland – as the case for not taking the National League seriously.  Unless someone can point to a causal rather than a casual link between these matters I’m not convinced.  And, the real issue here is how can you expect supporters to turn out if they know that they competition is going to be treated in such a way?

But, who am I to question Jim McGuinness on such matters.  His comments this year are no different from prior years – indeed when I raised this issue with a mate lately, he pointed out to me that Jim’s comments after the Down game were pretty much the same (word for word) as what he has said after the league win over Cork in 2012.  So at least his position is consistent, and relatively speaking, we are in a better position after two games this year than we were after two games last year.

In the loss to Kildare, as I saw it (on Setanta, not in person, which means that my view of the game is far from complete) the main reasons we lost were concession of two fairly sloppy goals and the fact that Kildare were able to give Niall Kelly his first league start. The goal Tomas O’Connor scored from a rebound was the sort of incident that Donegal dominated both defensively and offensively last year.  Yet on that night, Kildare were quicker to react – the fact that the ball took an awkward bounce off the inside of the post didn’t help, but Mayo could have made the same claim about Colm McFadden’s goal in the All-Ireland Final.  We have to put our hands up and say we were second best on the night.  As for John Doyle’s goal, well, let’s not forget that Paul Durcan is an All-Star and didn’t win the award by conceding such howlers.  It was out of character and I don’t think we’re likely to witness the same again this year.  Better to get it out of the way now.

In Niall Kelly, Kildare had a young player who was able to make a telling contribution to his side’s victory.  In Paddy McBrearty, Donegal have a young talent, but his influence on the game in the absence of Colm McFadden was much less telling than the impact of Kelly.  Sure Paddy is still young, but this is now his third season as a Senior player and I think it’s fair to say that in Croke Park especially, the performances haven’t lived up to high expectations.  In fairness, when watching the game from the stands, his influence tends to be harder to detect than it is when watching a game on TV and with the benefit of replays.  There were a few nice touches for assists in the Kildare game, and based on what I have seen so far, Paddy is more effective as a playmaker than as a pure scorer.  In truth, Donegal are more in need of a scorer than a playmaker, especially on nights when we are without Colm McFadden, or indeed when teams decide they can’t afford not to have two men marking Michael Murphy.

In our win over Down, for the first half it seemed that things were going to be much less straightforward than I had imagined.  But, the second half was more like what we saw last summer in Clones, but in all honesty Down were awful from the start of the second half (they didn’t manage to register a score until there was five minutes left in the game).  Still, we saw encouraging performances from both Ryan McHugh and Ross Wherity, who are both new to the panel under Jim McGuinness (Wherity had played briefly under John Joe Doherty), as well as the return of Neil Gallagher. Not to mention that we started the game missing 50% of our first choice defence from 2012, and yet still held Down to eight points.  All encouraging signs, no matter what the quality of the opposition (worth pointing out that Down were unable to call on Dan Gordon, Danny Hughes or Ambrose Rodgers and started without Benny Coulter), with one item for concern being the 10 wides Donegal managed, many from very favourable situations.  And to continue the point I started earlier, Paddy McBrearty’s display was a bit of a disappointment, being held scoreless throughout.

Both games so far have illustrated something that was common place last year – Donegal do the most damage in the third quarter of games.  In their next game against Tyrone, Donegal will face a team that has stayed in their first two league games long enough to win both, and of course we all remember that if not for a Paul Durcan save late in the day last time these teams met, the outcome might have been different. So it will be interesting to see if the third quarter burst will be enough to deal with a Tyrone team that once again includes Sean Cavanagh (absent from last year’s Ulster Semi-Final), who has been playing well and scoring regularly lately. It remains to be seen whether either manager will want to show too much of his hand in Omagh on Sunday with a much more important rematch looming at a yet to be determined location on 26 May.

In club news, the structure has been agreed and the draw has been made for the 2013 and 2014 Donegal Senior Championship.  Some very interesting groups, not least those containing last year’s finalists St Eunans and Naomh Conaill and the ‘Group of Death’ containing 2011 Champions Glenswilly and runners up St Michaels as well as the fast improving Kilcar.  Still, we are far from certain as to when games will actually played, with the first round of games scheduled for the June Bank Holiday weekend, but this depends on who might be involved in the Gaeltacht Championship Finals which are scheduled for the same weekend.  Thereafter, everything is subject to change depending on the progress of the County team.  So, if Donegal do as well as we hope/expect this summer, expect the same sort of issues that clubs faced last year to recur in 2013.  There has to be a middle ground where the needs of the clubs and the County team can be met.  I’ve yet to see it discussed however.  Subsequent to the holding of the draws, a number of irregularities were identified with the Intermediate, Junior and Under-21 draws which led to them being redrawn.  I accept that the GAA is an amateur organisation and that those involved at a local level are volunteers, but that doesn’t absolve those who have sought office from carrying out their tasks with more care than we have seen with the Championship draws.

I’ll finish with another rant.  On Sunday evening last, the ‘Donegal Supporters Club’ was relaunched in Ballybofey.  None of the Donegal supporters I have spoken to recently were aware that this was happening or attended the event. It warranted but a paragraph in the previous week’s Donegal Democrat (I don’t know if it was reported on by other local papers, I assume it was), but I saw or heard of no publicity from the County board or indeed any of the players (who if they had been asked would have created awareness of the launch on Twitter etc).  The purpose of the Supporters Club is to raise funds for the County Teams, I have no problem with that, indeed I have been calling for more transparency around the financial needs of the County Team so that supporters can contribute – and not the sort of sneaky opportunistic nonsense we witnessed last year with the All-Ireland Final ticket levy.  My issue is that this was surely an event that deserved greater publicity, but like so many things in the GAA, it has been treated like a secret.

Anyway, the new year for Donegal is well and truly underway.  If it’s any way as good as 2012 we are in for a treat.

Until Victory, Always.

P.S. in case you are a regular reader but aren’t aware, I’ve recently started contributing to a new podcast dedicated to discussing Donegal GAA.  You can find the first two episodes here and on i-tunes.  We also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account and we’d love you to get involved by ‘Liking’ and ‘Following’ and interacting by posting comments and questions.

The Twilight Zone

It’s odd being in this position. Favourites.  Expecting to win. Getting praise from all quarters.  It almost seems like the perfect storm.  It makes me a little uneasy to be in this position.  Sure, Donegal looked impressive in their first 2 championship games, but it would be foolish to buy into all the hype that is circulating at the moment.

A well known pundit recently compared Donegal to the All Blacks. If that was an appropriate analogy, then I would expect Donegal to beat Tyrone by 20 points on Saturday and go on to win the All Ireland without Michael Murphy.  And we’d also get away with a lot of cheating.  None of this is what I want to hear, especially not when we’re not even at the Ulster Final stage yet.  Retaining that would be an achievement in itself.  As far as I’m concerned, the only plaudits we need are from our own supporters and fans – the rest can just keep their opinions civil and reasoned.  Donegal don’t need and I don’t want their praise.  For good reason.

I travelled to Killarney this year and witnessed Donegal take quite a beating.  Of course, this was just a league game, but Donegal travelled with a full team and Kerry were missing the Gooch.  It would have been nice to give them a game, whatever about the result. Likewise, we went toe-to-toe with Dublin under the floodlights, and the outcome may have been different had it not been for an injury to Michael Murphy, we might have come out on top, but we ended up on the wrong end of a 2-16 to 0-13 scoreline.  A missed opportunity to gain some level of revenge for our defeat in last year’s war of attrition.  To balance this, Donegal handled Cork (who are now regarded as the number 2 team in the country) easily enough in a low scoring affair in Ballybofey, and beat Mayo easily in a very strange game in Ballyshannon, so we have some form against the better teams in the Country.  But it’s worth keeping in mind that while Donegal will have improved from the league, it’s certain that most other contenders will have moved into a higher gear as well – Dublin and Cork being good examples.

Most of us agreed that it felt weird to come away from an Ulster Championship game feeling so good about things, but that’s how it was in Ballybofey 2 weeks ago.  Sure, Derry were very poor, but Donegal were good, even with Michael Murphy operating at around 60%-70%, and they still looked like they had plenty left in the tank if they needed it.  It was similar against Cavan in some respects, although I’d argue that Cavan looked a better team than Derry, as evidenced by the margin of the Donegal victory.  Donegal have scored an average of 19 points in their first 2 games this year – evidence of our increased scoring power (or so the experts say).  I’ll be interested to see how much we score against Tyrone this weekend, or indeed who much we would score against a Dublin, Cork, Kerry or Kildare.  I doubt we get to 19 points in 70 minutes.  But I’m open to persuasion.

To this weekend’s game, if I look at where both teams have come since they last met in last year’s Ulster Semi-Final, it’s hard to see how Tyrone have improved enough to overcome Donegal.  Not to mention that what’s happening in Mauritius at the moment could be weighing in Mickey Harte’s mind. The loss of Sean Cavanagh is potentially huge, and Philip Jordan has left a massive hole in the half back line as well.  Donegal are minus Kevin Cassidy, but the rest of the defence is playing at a very high level.  Armagh had more than enough chances to take care of Tyrone early and late in the game, and Armagh are not a good team anymore.  Derry never had a sniff against Donegal.  On that basis, I’ll take Donegal by 4 points on Saturday.  I may even put my money where my mouth is. If that’s not a kiss of death I don’t know what is.