Is it me or are Donegal allowing themselves to become an average side once more? There are signs that are not overly encouraging even at this early stage of the year.
Last Sunday’s display in Pairc Esler left many Donegal followers frustrated and disappointed, not just by the final result but by the absence of the killer instinct that had become part and parcel of the side under Jim McGuinness.
Donegal huffed and puffed but never looked like bridging the gap which was created by a porous defence in the opening quarter when they were opened on a number of occasions. That Down only got one goal in that period was by accident rather than design.
After getting their four -point lead, Down went into defence mode and Donegal just didn’t have the ingenuity to break them down.
There were so many aspects of the Donegal display that were well below what we have come to expect. In many ways it was similar to what we experienced after the Tyrone game in last summer’s championship. We just kept huffing and puffing but without any outcome. One felt that if Down had to have a cutting edge the final margin would have been much greater than two points.
As it was if Colm McFadden had been able to point a free from 30 metres and David Walsh from much closer, we would have secured a point which we would hardly have deserved.
Those Donegal supporters that were suggesting that we just had to show up were not living in the real world. Down have not lost to Donegal in the league in Newry in a long time and after losing twice to them last year (league and championship), they were always going to come out fighting. The Down tactics were dour. They weren’t going to allow Donegal to play their running game, but Donegal should know that all teams will be out to do that now.
What Donegal have to do is be much, much sharper. Their all-round game was very poor on Sunday. They had two passes that went for wides; the normally very efficient Christy Toye was off target with 15-metre passes, something which is his trademark.
Michael Murphy was also guilty of not being clinical, dropping a 30-metre effort into the ‘keeper’s hands in the opening half.
The quality of the Donegal passing was poor, nearly always giving the receiving player far too much to do, either having to jump high to control the ball or the ball didn’t hit the target at all. When that happens, it makes it very easy for the opposing team to defend and when you have a team like Down, hungry for victory and league points, then you are always going to have a difficult day at the office.
Added to this was a lack of discipline as we allowed Down to ruffle us resulting in us have frees overturned and Neil Gallagher was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card. It wasn’t much, but you can’t raise your hands. Those are the small things that might mean little on their own, but when they are all put together, they usually point to a team under pressure.
We are not performing as a team like we did in 2011 and 2012. We have to get back our natural game plan where we are continually supporting the player on the ball. Many times on Sunday we had a player making a break, but more often than not, the support was not there for him, especially in the last quarter of the field.
It might help if we get Karl Lacey back at centre half-back to give the leadership we need.
That would allow Leo McLoone the latitude to go forward without responsibility, although he would be better offloading early rather than always taking the ball into contact. Imagine the damage he could create by giving and taking, as he possesses the ability to open any opposing defence in that way.
We are still in the driving seat as regards promotion to Division One. Indeed, by the time we take the field in Ballyshannon against Louth on Sunday week, we will have a good idea of what we will need from that game, ahead of the trip to Armagh a week later.
Down will have played their penultimate game away to Meath on Saturday, 29th, and if they are beaten then a win against Louth will almost certainly see Donegal promoted, given their vastly superior scoring average.
It is still a very good position, but it not about the league. The ardent followers are looking further ahead and hoping for an extended run in the Ulster championship.
It would seem there are a few problems to be ironed out before we hit Celtic Park.