The target of a return to top flight league football is within reach after Sunday’s win against Louth in Fr. Tierney, Park, Ballyshannon.
The win was deserved and Donegal produced one of their best halves of football in the opening period, albeit against what looked like an insipid Louth side, who just didn’t seem to be at the races.
Leading 0-13 to 0-1 with a few minutes left to the half-time break, Donegal were home and hosed. The atmosphere in Ballyshannon dropped as most of the home support just couldn’t believe how poor Louth were. That lethargy obviously began to seep through to the Donegal team and the second period lacked the intensity that was the main stay of the opening half performance.
It would be wrong to dwell too much on the crazy period when Donegal leaked two goals in a minute which brought Louth back into the contest.
Looking forward to the summer, the directness of the Donegal play in the opening half was heartening. The support play and lines of running were excellent and the point taking by midfielders Rory Kavanagh and Christy Toye and wing-backs Declan Walsh and Anthony Thompson brought back memories of Donegal in the summer of 2012.
The form being shown by Toye and Kavanagh is very encouraging, while Colm McFadden was much more hungry than he was against Down.
The importance of McFadden to Donegal cannot be overstated. He is in the twilight of his career now and there is an obvious replacement in Patrick McBrearty. But for this reporter, unless McFadden is on fire then Donegal will not feature.
You can rely on Michael Murphy to step up to the plate on the big day, but alongside him, when Donegal have hit the heights, it is usually when McFadden is performing. Let’s hope the St. Michael’s man retains that appetite for the coming months.
One thing that occurred to me about Sunday’s game was our use of substitutions.
Leading by nine points at half-time, I felt it was the perfect occasion to use some of our unused panel, most notably Luke Keaney, but the Donegal Town player (who was recently selected on the Universities Team of the Year) was only given token time at the end of the game. I feel it was an opportunity that was missed, especially given the fact that Keaney missed out on the Dr. McKenna Cup because of his involvement with Jordanstown. Maybe he was carrying an injury, but if he was fully fit then he could have got a real trial.
Donegal are in a very favourable position now to return to the top flight, although they will not be able to rest on their laurels until the final whistle is blown in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Sunday next. Armagh are in a dogfight to avoid the drop to Division 3. Donegal need to get a draw to take the other permutations out of the equation. However, if they are beaten and Meath overcome Louth and Down defeat Laois, Donegal’s much superior score average should be good enough. The only scenario, it seems, that would see them miss out on promotion would be if they (Donegal) and Meath lose and Down win. That would leave Donegal and Down level on nine points and by virtue of the head to head win, Down would be promoted. That scenario also includes Monaghan defeating Galway to finish top of the division.
So all in all, there is only one thing that should be on Donegal’s mind this week - a win in the Athletic Grounds. That would see them promoted as champions of Division Two as they prepare for their warm-weather training camp in the Algarve, Portugal, the following week. It would also ensure a good warm-up game (the Division Two League final) in Croke Park on April 27th - just four weeks ahead of the big one - the trip to Celtic Park and Derry on Sunday, May 25th.