The year 2013 will not be remembered as a good year for football in Donegal. Very few could put up any argument that would suggest otherwise.
After the success of 2012 it was always going to be hard to keep the level of commitment and enthusiasm that is required for continued success. Unlike many of the big counties we do not have a huge base of players to pick from so from time to time you expect players to drop those levels.
It’s natural, everyone gets tired; other things come up and after a bit of success you find that you want to let your hair down a bit and enjoy yourself.
This year is different; the levels of expectancy are not as great, supporters are unsure if there is another good championship run in this squad, the players themselves will doubt for a while whether they have it in themselves to ignite the same passion that was there in 2012 and of course the manager and his new management team will want to leave no one in any doubt that 2012 was no fluke that at times has been suggested by many in the national media.
In the last few months we in Donegal have come in for a lot of criticism from a lot of quarters within the GAA from the incident with Patrick McBrearty to this year’s championship fixtures. There was the very public parting of the previous management team which was not done in the quiet and professional way that one would have expected and of course the press were asked to leave county board meetings and then refused to report the business of County Convention.
Of course a lot of the same happens in other counties but we in Donegal seem to have a history of doing our dirty laundry in public and all it does is gives those who would rather see the Dublins and Kerrys win every All-Ireland ammunition to have a go at us. It was bad enough they didn’t like the way we decided to play the game but now they seem to be very concerned about when our clubs get to play in the championship; yeah right!
I have no doubt we will be returning to that subject in the not too distant future and many more of the criticisms that have been levelled at us but it’s time to look forward.
KNIFE THROUGH BUTTER
What can we expect from the National League? A great start last Sunday in Portlaoise. Laois were not up to much but if I am totally up front Donegal should go through Division Two like a knife through butter.
We are too strong for this division and while Jim might not accept that, the way that Donegal approached last year’s league campaign had a lot to do with the poor form we carried into the championship.
It’s from the success of teams in the last ten years who won the national league that they go on and have a good run or can often end up winning the All-Ireland.
Donegal have been able to prepare for this year’s national league; there were no dinner dances or receptions to fill their minds before Christmas. Jim and his new management team had set out a training pro gramme that could only be described as extremely demanding, especially when you consider that these are amateur players, training twice during the week and then on another two occasions at the weekend and they trained over their Christmas holidays.
That’s what is expected from your average county player nowadays. Jim and the players know that if he wants to get back to the highs of 2012 there has to be a huge commitment from everyone.
The older lads will know that this could be their last chance for another bit of silverware and while many of them have quite a few medals in the drawer at home they will know that time is not on their side. It will not be their age; it won’t be their lack of hunger or commitment; all the training and injuries will catch up with them
One thing that is noticeable this year is that a number of the younger lads have been given a number of opportunities to shine. People who think that giving a lot of young lads their chance at the one time is somehow beneficial to them are mistaken.
You can only introduce maybe two or three players during a league campaign. They have to be given time to blend in with the older lads; they have to get used to the speed of the game and above all get used to the game plan.
Odhran Mac Niallas has found himself in the mix in most of the McKenna Cup matches and against Laois the last weekend; a player with loads of ability but he will only learn if he is given a bit of time. Hugh McFadden is another, loads of ability and the physical strength that’s required. Marty O ‘Reilly has been on the scene for a few years now but another that needs a steady run.
The team needs a bit of of new blood. New faces and new voices around a dressing room and at training will give many more established lads a new lease of life,.
Don’t get me wrong, the older lads are needed. They are the back bone and calls for retirements last year were not warranted.
As I said at the start we have a small base to pick from and if we’re going to be successful, whether it’s in the national league, the Ulster championship or the All -Ireland we will need everyone.
Roll on 2014. Hopefully it will be a good one.