Last Sunday’s defeat by Monaghan has raised many of the questions that we asked after last summer’s defeat by Mayo in the All-Ireland series.
I know people might say that in the context of the championship and the summer ahead last Sunday’s league final will count for nothing but while I might agree with some of that I don’t believe for one minute that Jim McGuinness and the players would have wanted to give Monaghan any advantage going into the summer.
While getting promotion from Division Two was probably the main aim at the start of the league, going back to Croke Park and winning would have went somewhat to erasing the memory of our poor performance in the quarter-final defeat last summer.
It was interesting that since 2012 there seems to be a reluctance to play the sweeper. I don’t know whether it’s because of the bad press the county received or whether Jim has decided that teams have figured out how to combat that tactic or maybe he see’s the way Dublin have transformed from being a ultra defensive side to all-out attack and he believes that is the way to go.
But every match I seen this year and last we are certainly more open to conceding goals. Our defenders are encouraged to attack and to be fair to Frank McGlynn, Anthony Thompson and Karl Lacey they are damn good at it, but the problem arises when the attack breaks down and we have pushed so far up the field we leave too much room in front of the full-back line and they are being exposed to the counter attack.
When we played Mark McHugh and Ryan Bradley in a more defensive role our full-back line were protected.
At times last Sunday the Monaghan forwards had so much time on the ball to set up the score - and to be fair they did kick some good scores - but they had loads of time. They weren’t under the same pressure that the likes of Murphy, McFadden and Patrick McBrearty were under.
Now it could be said that the Donegal management may believe having the team at that level of intensity is too early in respect to their preparation for the championship but when you see where Monaghan are at, and I’m sure they are following what was successful for them last year, it may raise the question: Are we really as good as we were a few years ago? Again I would give the team management and players the benefit of the doubt for last Sunday, believing that they see the championship as the ultimate goal and winning a Division Two league title will be well forgotten in a couple of weeks where winning an Ulster championship is never forgotten.
However, losing games is not the best preparation especially against one to your rivals. Also this is the time of year that you expect players to start to show the form that puts them in contention for the championship fifteen.
While we started the game ok on Sunday we went too long without a score mid way through the first half. Again I go back to the point I have made on several occasions; we are dependant too much on a few men to come up with scores. Outside the full-forward line we struggle to get scores from other areas of the field.
A couple of years ago Rory Kavanagh, McHugh, the defenders I mentioned earlier, and Ryan Bradley, were always coming good but this area of our game has struggled and when you see the way the Monaghan defence closed down Murphy and McFadden with three men at times surrounding them, other managers are going to go down the same road.
Another area of our game that was not good last weekend was our discipline. It suited Monaghan for us to get involved. I know there were probably a few scores to settle from last summer’s Ulster final but Croke Park is generally not the place to do those things and I have no doubt that Rory Kavanagh may suffer the wrath of the disciplinary committee for his actions.
We are better when we concentrate on the football and leave the handbags in the dressing room.
I think the Donegal lads need a couple of days off; take on board where things went wrong last Sunday and prepare for the Derry game as if it’s their last.
Many of the present players have given a huge service to their county and owe nobody anything but there is only so many times you can go to the well.
I don’t think we’re in a bad place I believe that those around us have improved and Derry are certainly one of them who have made huge strides in the league this year,.
I know Dublin gave them a bit of a hammering last Sunday but the Dubs are at a different level that anyone else at this time and whoever gets the better of them in this year’s championship will have Sam Maguire with them come next September.
Finally I would like to extend sympathies with the family of the late John Hannigan. As long as I can remember John has been around when Donegal played; you could be playing in a challenge match in the middle of nowhere and John would be there, a man with a huge knowledge of football and he had the respect of all those who played the game. From what I have heard an outstanding footballer in his day but most of all a gentleman. He will be missed by all.