Two out of three ain’t bad. Donegal recorded their second victory in the National Football League last Sunday after beating table toppers Cork in a windswept Ballyshannon.
Donegal were in control for most of this game but a Cork goal breathed new life into the Leesiders with 12 minutes remaining. But for their wayward shooting and some stout defending by Donegal, Cork would have won this game by three of four points.
The key to Donegal’s win was the shackling of Colm O’Neill by Neil McGee. O’Neill is a class act but so too is the man from Gweedore. O’Neill did not score from play which says a lot about McGee’s fantastic defending qualities. Another man who was influential in Donegal’s victory was my friend with the Speedos in Dubai, Marty O’Reilly. Marty scored four points from play and put in a brilliant performance.
It is encouraging for Donegal football to see the likes of O’Reilly and Martin McElhinney, who were on the periphery of the panel last season, putting in solid performances. Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy in attack scored vital points and the former is improving with every game. I also thought that Frank McGlynn was excellent in defence. He intercepted a vital Cork move at the death to deny Cork a scoring opportunity which would certainly have given Cork a draw.
It was a terrible day for football and it would be difficult to gauge any team’s performance in such conditions. Cork are a good team. It is particularly satisfying to beat one of the country’s top teams especially when Donegal are no way near their peak level of fitness. This result puts Donegal joint top with Mayo, Kerry and Cork.
This Sunday Donegal will play Monaghan in Letterkenny. Monaghan were heavily beaten by Mayo last Sunday. They certainly will not relish a visit to the Cathedral town since their last game there resulted in abysmal defeat. Monaghan are struggling to find form recently and they will know that defeat to Donegal in their next outing could consign them to Division 2 football next season.
For Donegal, this latest victory will have boosted morale significantly and they will look forward to this clash with Monaghan. Facing Ulster teams gives added spice to National League fixtures. Markers are laid down for the summer when championship begins and Donegal will want to show Monaghan that we are still Ulster’s kingpins. Donegal are currently the best performing Ulster team and to be perfectly honest, we are only going at half steam. Derry prop up the Division 1 league with Monaghan helping them.
I watched Tyrone and Derry playing out a draw in atrocious conditions at Healy Park last Saturday evening. Tyrone are certainly lacking a cutting edge that was a hallmark of their success when they were winning All-Ireland titles in the early 2000s.
Cavan playing out of Division 2 are showing only mediocre form while Armagh are heading up Division 3. I still believe that Armagh could be the dark horses in this year’s championship. Under Kieran McGeeny, they bring a physical aspect to the game which many teams find difficult to deal with. They will see themselves as rank outsiders which means that they will go into the championship with nothing to lose. Watch out for the Orchard County!
Donegal’s preliminary championship game with Tyrone is only ten weeks away from this Sunday. To date, our run in the league has been very satisfactory. It would be great to get into the league play offs in preparation for Tyrone and the games to follow. If we don’t make the latter stage of the league mix, then challenge games will be needed. There is a world of difference between competitive football and challenge matches. A victory against Monaghan on Sunday will put us one step closer to a crack at the league title. With other teams beating each other, it is hard to not see us there.
With every game, Donegal will get stronger and fitter. Rory Gallagher will know his championship team bar one or maybe two players. It was great to see Glenties man Anthony Thompson return to the fold. This will solve one of the half back slots. The team is settling in well and it only leaves for sharpness and endurance to be tuned. Although we are still experiencing very wintery weather conditions, a few weeks will make a huge difference. Along with the rising weather temperature so too will the temperature within GAA circles as the summer advances.
Donegal’s victory last Sunday was hugely significant. It leaves us in a great position to contest for the league title but, more importantly, it gives the team a massive morale boost. We know that we can still compete with the best. Confidence within the squad will have increased which augurs well for a great season ahead. Believe me the Donegal players are still hurting after losing the All-Ireland final last September. As you know the wounded lion is the most dangerous one. Our wounded soldiers are gunning for redemption.
We are in for a great season.