If anyone was in any doubt that the way in which Donegal play their football was going to change with a new manager in charge they were left in little doubt after last Saturday night’s opening National League game against Derry in Ballybofey.
That level of high intensity and workrate was there for all to see when Donegal got into the rhythm. It did take a while for them to settle and to be fair to Derry they certainly gave Donegal plenty to think about in the first 25 to 30 minutes but once Derry dropped the pace there were only going to be one winner.
Derry gave them plenty to think about with mixing up their game from releasing the ball quickly with a number of well placed kick passes into the full-forward line to being patient when Donegal had got nearly everyone behind the ball and still managing to make an opening for a score.
Under Jim McGuinness, Donegal always had a habit of starting slowly. Saturday night was no different; they got plenty of men behind the ball making Derry use a lot of energy going over and back the field and when Derry got an opening they were always under pressure. All that work paid off as Derry tired somewhat at the end of the first half and when Donegal came out for the second half Michael Murphy was moved inside to support Paddy McBrearty.
Derry struggled to cope, not only with Donegal running at them but also the long ball that was sent in on top of Murphy who caused havoc. Many say this is where Murphy does his best work but I think if he was left on the edge of the square all the time teams would use extra players to snuff the threat out.
Donegal were just better in the second half. All over the field they got to grips with their Derry counterparts and once Odhran MacNiallais scored the goal it was game over, Donegal had a lot of good performances with many of the established players showing great form for so early in the year. Christy Toye and Neil Gallagher went through a huge amount of work Odhran MacNiallais was again excellent on the ball; Marty O’Reilly kicked a couple of great points and was busy throughout. Paddy McBrearty was excellent throughout, always looking for the ball and always willing to shoot when the time was right. He looks sharp and will be a main player if Donegal are going to take any silverware back to the hills in 2015.
Rory and his management team will be happy to get off to a good start but they will be well aware this was not a Derry team anywhere near their best. They will also know that many of the challenges ahead will give them a better idea of where they are. Dublin will set a new set of challenges on Saturday night in Croke Park. They got off to a bad start losing to Cork so they will want to put some points on the board.
I would hope that the Donegal management will continue giving a number of the younger players their chance; it’s important that they play alongside the likes of Karl Lacey, Eamon McGee and Co. as it will help them settle in to the team.
As usual at this time of the year there is a lot of discussion on a whole range of topics but over the last couple of days especially after the director general of the GAA Paraic Duffy realised his report for the year. I like Duffy; he usually doesn’t hold back. As is often the case with many people who have the responsibility of running such huge organisations they have a tendency to be a bit of a politician; you know the type who tell you what you want to hear but do what tends to help them.
In an interview earlier in the week Duffy answered some hard questions from the Garth Brooks affair to the semi-final replay between Kerry and Mayo in Limerick. Many, like Duffy, felt it was a mistake and he hoped it would never arise again. He discussed player burnout for and hoped a report would be ready in the next few months that would take on board the views of all those committees that have sat for the last ten years and hopefully the problems addressed by this committee could be pinpointed and solutions put in place.
That is fine, but do we really need another report? Do we really need people of the medical profession tell us something that is staring us in the face? No. We need someone to take action.
I would have some pity for the director general on this point as he can only put motions in front of Congress and it’s up to Congress to accept these proposals. Take any 21-year-old county player; they will play U-21 and senior for both club and county; there will also be a fair chance they will be playing some college football as well. They could have to play under five different managers or coaches and will be expected to give a commitment to all. It was probably their dream to play for their county and when the chance comes your way you do everything to make sure you can give your best. Then when the county scene is over the club season kicks in.
Paraic Duffy suggested doing away with the U-21 competition. He is probably right because the time is not there any more for this competition, but where would Donegal be now without those All-Ireland U-21 wins in ‘82 and ‘87? Would our history be any different? How many of the weaker counties see the U-21 as their best chance of silverware or establishing a senior team with a chance of success in the future?
Do we need the college football? Well these very same colleges do a lot in terms of supports for these players so it would not be fair not to allow the colleges to have their time; it has to work both ways.
The problem goes back to the season being too long and players being asked to train for a minimum of nine to ten months a year and at most play about 20 to 25 games. So if players are only playing that amount of games where is the burnout; it’s the endless training and nothing else. Get a grip of that and you are half way to solving the problem.