First things first. A great result by the Donegal minors last Saturday in Sligo. Played in wet conditions that at times left underfoot and ball handling very difficult, Donegal could have made life easier for themselves if they had to take all their chances and not be so quick to kick away possession late in the second half.
Roscommon were not a good side; they lacked any real forward punch but they were just the width of the post from going through after some very nervous defending by a Donegal team that lost their shape late on.
It was obvious from early on that Roscommon were going to pull as many as possible behind the ball when they lost possession. They set up a line just outside the ‘D’ and just invited the Donegal players either to run down the outside channels or go through the middle. What worked early on for Donegal was going straight down the middle but passing the ball at speed; they got scores from it and were in total control.
They started the second half in the same manner. They were assured on the ball;, they seemed to have a definite game plan and kicked a couple of great scores and were in total control but then they started to stop doing what was working. They started kicking 50-50 ball into the forwards who were being closed down by five or six Roscommon defenders. Instead of holding on to the ball and inviting the Roscommon defenders on to them, they panicked a bit and lost their shape and they let Roscommon back into the game.
Thankfully they got over the line. This side, for the commitment and time they have given, deserve to have a go in headquarters. Thy are a good side and are capable of a whole lot more but it is not easy with young lads because they can be affected by so many things both on and off the field.
There also seems to be the idea that this is the year where Donegal will break that minor hoodoo and this has added a lot of pressure on to very young shoulders which is very unfair. But hopefully in the next few weeks they will be given the space to prepare for their All Ireland semi-final.
While the Ulster final threw up a couple of great performances another couple of lads showed they have plenty to offer. Cian Mulligan from Gweedore was excellent both in defence and when he went forward. He kicked a couple of great scores in the second half. His club mate Michael Carroll was also excellent until he tired. Lorcan Connor and Jamie Brennan were full of running early on and will relish the open spaces of Croke Park. Ciaran Gillespie at full-back held the thing together near the end along with Tony McClenaghan and Stephen McBrearty.
Now that we know that Armagh will be waiting for us in the quarter-finals we will all have a fair idea what to expect. What we will not be expecting is an open, high scoring and free flowing classic. It will be the ultra defensive show with every ball being critical to who will come out on top.
Armagh have improved this year beating Cavan in the first round of the Ulster championship and then dumping Tyrone out before losing out to Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final. Watching that game Armagh could have considered themselves unlucky and but for a few decisions that did not go tehir way they should have been in the Ulster final.
I doubt if Paul Grimley would have minded going through the back door and under the radar. That’s the way Armagh like to do things. They keep everything in-house and already this year have not been reluctant to have any contact with the press.
If you can imagine a mirror image of the system that is employed by Jim McGuinness and the Donegal players that is what Armagh are going to bring to town, They will bring 12, 13 behind the ball and with Kieran McGeeney in the backroom team they will be well coached in the art of tackling and slowing down the play.
They will go into the game as complete underdogs and will know they will have nothing to lose and everything to gain with the pressure solely on Donegal to win.
There are a lot of people talking about the semi-final pairing of Donegal and Dublin so again this will suit Grimley’s men. Jim McGuinness will have come across this before and the players will know exactly what to expect but knowing is one thing, reacting is another.
There are many that have suggested that this year was all about winning Ulster. I’m not so sure that winning Ulster is enough to satisfy many of the present players; they have always wanted more. They want a second and third All-Ireland if it’s there for them. This is another chance and they will know they don’t come around too often.
The players will match that Armagh aggression and commitment but it will be important that the discipline is spot on. Armagh will match Donegal’s physicality; they will match their defensive structure but if we are to overcome Armagh and set up that date with the Dubs our forwards will have to be at their best. Every opportunity will have to be taken. Against Monaghan in the Ulster final we were on top from the start. There is another couple of gears left in them and knowing the players they will know they have unfinished business after 2013.
While we could throw out a few Armagh players that need to be watched I believe this is all about Donegal getting themselves in the right frame of mind and delivering on what they are capable of. Jim and the rest of the management squad will work towards that but once the players cross that white line it will be up to them; it will come down to who wants it most and I believe there is still a huge hunger within this present group of players.