Before we go into what we might expect in Celtic Park next Sunday there were a couple of things that caught the eye last weekend.
First of all the Tyrone-Down game was a clinker. Yes, the first half was not the best but this was the first competitive game these teams would have had since the end of the National League and it’s always hard to find your feet in your first championship game of the year.
So the criticism at half-time from the so-called experts was a bit unwarranted. The second half was as good a 40 minutes of football under the conditions that have been played for a long time; goals, great point taking and the intensity that we have come to expect from the Ulster championship.
There was probably more excitement and entertainment in the second half of this game than there were in the pick of the all the other championship games that were played last weekend.
It didn’t take long for the controversy of the black card to raise it’s head,. When David Coldrick from Meath showed the black card to Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan for the foul on the Down corner forward that resulted in a penalty, how he must have wished he had branded the same to the Down’s Conor Maginn when he conceded a penalty in the first half because then and there was what all the managers, players and commentators in the game had said all long came true, no consistency.
I don’t blame David Coldrick too much for that. I thought he had a decent game and handled most of the hard situations extremely well and if all the games are handled the same way then we will have little to complain about. The problem I see happening is every time a player is tackled and he falls to the ground supporters, managers and players are looking for the black card. To receive a black card it is defined as cynical behaviour and that is set out as follows to deliberately trip, pull down or body collide an opponent; remonstrate in an aggressive manner with a match official or threaten to use abusive or provocative language to an opponent or a team mate. Until we are all used to these rules there will be plenty of arguments ahead; this could be a long summer for the referees.
The second item to rear it’s head this weekend, while not that controversial to the rest of the country, is the question when a county player signs for a club in another county and works for that club as a coach where does his loyalties lie? Colm Begley, probably Laois’s best player, was put in a very difficult position last weekend. He played for his club Parnells in Dublin last week. He works as a coach for the club but the Laois manager dropped him for the game against Wicklow at the weekend for playing for his club. What did he expect him to do? There is a saying that you do not cut off the hand that feeds you. Would the Laois manager or the county board have found him a job if he had not played for his club and subsequently lost his post as coach. Tomas O Flatharta, the Laois manager, said the issue was resolved and that Begley would be back in the squad and training on Tuesday night. He did not, however, say what would happen if the situation would arise again. He did not say that Begley was wrong or if he was right. Colm Begley said nothing. How often have we criticised county players for not playing for their clubs; sometimes you just can’t win.
Since the draw was made we have all been looking forward to Sunday’s game in Celtic Park. The question we have to ask ourselves this year is who is in the better place? Last year we went into the first round as favourites against Tyrone. Derry where struggling going out to Down in the first round but this year the roles have been reversed.
Derry go into this year’s campaign after a great run in the National League and even though they where beaten by Dublin in the final they showed that they have improved and seem to have found a new confidence under the leadership of Brian McIver. Donegal, on the other hand, have just been beaten by Monaghan in the Division Two league final after an up and down league campaign. Also the much publicised withdrawal of the four Donegal lads from the squad will not have done much for team morale.
If those who go to the game or tune in on television expect a free flowing, open attacking game, I can tell you now forget about it. Derry have played all year withdrawing three if not four players back into their defence when they’re not in possession. Donegal will do the same and hope to hit Derry on the break.
If Donegal have a clear advantage it would be that we have three or four forwards that can punish any team if they get the ball early. Derry will know this and hope the likes of Oisin Duffy, Chrissy McKaigue and Gerard O Kane can counteract the likes of Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty.
Donegal will hope that the McGee brothers, Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson can take care of Mark Lynch (who has been on fire this year), Emmett McGuckin, Cailean O’Boyle and Enda Lynn. The loss of Rory Kavanagh and the fitness worries over Neil Gallagher could have a huge bearing on the amount of possession we can win in the middle of the field. Home advantage could also be a deciding factor but when it comes down to the wire it will be the team that wants it the most; the team that on the day take their chances and gets the bounce of the ball.
Good luck also to the county minors who have had a good year to date under Declan Bonner and co. Hopefully they can break that trend of the last few years and progress into the next round.
Championship; you can’t beat it.