It was mission accomplished for Donegal in Galway last Sunday. As stated many times here, Donegal’s immediate focus is on the National League and securing promotion to the top tier again.
There was some doubt whether this game would take place or not because of the inclement weather conditions currently prevailing in the west of the country. Fortunately, after a pitch inspection at 8am on Sunday morning, the pitch in Salthill was deemed playable. It can be a bit unsettling for the visiting team when doubt exists in this regard.
Nowadays, inter county teams are fine tuned in the days and hours leading up to the throw-in. It is also a financial burden on travelling supporters as well as on the GAA County Boards.
Many years ago, Donegal travelled to Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork by train from Sligo but had to return without a ball being kicked due to a water logged pitch. We travelled back the following week. Pairc Ui Chaoimh was still flooded but instead of sending us home they took us out to Ballincollig where they beat us.
We couldn’t understand why the game was not switched to this venue the previous weekend. We now know that some of their keys players were injured. They say that they are cute in Kerry. Well, there are plenty of them in Cork as well. Thankfully, Galway did not resort to any such antics last weekend. It has to be said that the officials in and around Pearse Stadium in Salthill were courteous, friendly, respectful and very helpful. This is the way it should be.
Monaghan, who are the other favourites to take the step up to division one, will visit Letterkenny for Donegal’s next match. From the outset of this league campaign this is the game that Donegal have been looking forward to most. Our opponents so far, Laois and Galway, have not been able to cope with Donegal’s intensity. Monaghan, on the other hand, are reigning Ulster champions and will want to impose themselves on Donegal by any means. They beat Donegal in last year’s Ulster final who were only a shadow of themselves.
Monaghan have three points from their opening games beating Meath by an impressive margin of 12 points last Sunday. Donegal will certainly not be getting carried away with our two wins because from what we have witnessed so far, there is a quite a difference in standards between division1 and division 2 of the national league.
Remember that both Laois and Galway had home advantage over Donegal. At this stage, it is difficult to gauge our progress in respect of what is to come when the business end of the season begins. Still, Donegal can be satisfied with what has been achieved to date. We seem to be benefiting from the fact that national media attention and hype follows the more elite teams in division 1.
It has not gone unnoticed that our first round opponents in the Ulster championship, Derry, have been performing very well as has our other neighbours Tyrone.
Playing from division 1 these two Ulster teams will be performing at full tilt which has its advantages too. They should be very sharp come the summer. There is no doubting Tyrone’s pedigree. Derry, too, have a number of young players in their squad. They will be delighted after beating Kerry away last Sunday. It is early stages yet where players and management are finding their feet. We all know that the championship will take on a different complexion when all the sorting out will have finished. The main concern for every management team is keeping their players injury.
In the meantime, we can presume that Donegal will concentrate on the remainder of our games in the league especially the very tasty crunch tie against the Farney men when the league resumes in just over two weeks time. I believe that Monaghan will a much fresher team in Letterkenny than they did in Clones last summer. They bullied Donegal around the park that day and it was quite evident that we didn’t have the energy to respond. Seven months have passed since that encounter. It has been a long wait. Our core went a bit soft that day. Believe me, that core has hardened a lot since. Many lessons have been learned but the pain of that Ulster Final defeat has yet to subside. Monaghan was playing on their home turf last July which would have buoyed their confidence.
Roll on the meeting in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.