Dublin will be a bit happier now since they defeated Donegal in Croke Park by five points last Saturday evening. This victory will ease their five month pain of losing to the same team in the All-Ireland semi-final last year.
This was never going to be an easy game for Donegal but we did make life difficult for ourselves after a powerful start to this match. Michael Murphy was unstoppable at full-forward. Like a flash Dublin had the ball in the back of the Donegal. From 17 minutes until the final whistle, Donegal trailed Dublin and had to play catch up.
We used six substitutions in all, two of which were forced due to Paul Durcan’s head injury and Michael Murphy’s dismissal respectively. At times our shooting was wayward and we were wasteful in possession for periods.
Rory Gallagher will learn much more from this game than he would have from the Derry victory. Each player will have his performance forensically analysed. Collectively and for each individual, Donegal team management will plan accordingly detailing what is required to reach match pace. We are a bit off yet but, let’s not forget that we are still in the infancy of the season and Rory Gallagher is still adapting to his role as team manager.
There are positives though. Hugh McFadden from Killybegs, whom I forgot to mention last week, did reasonably well in midfield and was probably unlucky to be substituted. But Hugh is a young lad and will have benefitted greatly from this experience. Had Donegal not missed the many scoring opportunities that were created then we may well have won this game.
We are competing well and all of the squad are been given a chance to perform. After Kevin McManamon’s sending off, the game changed. Dublin seemed to up their intensity and we seemed to lose our discipline with referee Mick Deegan, who made some unusual decisions against the Donegal men. Deegan lost control for a period of this game that was never dirty but he allowed some hefty challenges from some Dublin players to go unpunished. If playing strictly by the rules, Michael Murphy’s marker in this game, and in any given game, could be sent off many times over.
Persistent fouling nowadays warrants a black card. Constant punching to the ribs is a fantastic means of attack in the sport of boxing but under no circumstances in Gaelic football is it permitted. Murphy is the victim of continuous fouling during all games. Because of his stature, he isn’t easily grounded and because of his honesty he won’t go to ground.
Michael’s frustration cost him a black card but the game was over at this stage. He is playing better than ever and I feel that he is going to have his best season ever this year.
One game in the National League will never define a season. The other results in Division 1 were kind to us with Cork leading the pack, Derry at the bottom and the rest on par. Donegal know where they are at. They know that the squad will only get fitter in the coming weeks and months. We may be a bit deflated after last weekend but we know that we will only improve.
A three week break is now scheduled for the National League during which time the Donegal squad of 2014 will take a sort break in Dubai. Most of the current players will be there. The warm Arabian sun will provide some much needed vitamin D for them. It will also give the players a chance to get in some training in a relaxed environment.
Our next game will take place in Ballyshannon against table toppers Cork on March 1st. Cork had a surprise win against an inform Monaghan team in Castleblaney last Sunday. Like Dublin, the Leesiders don’t normally travel well. Their star forward Colm O’Neill has returned to great form after sustaining a serious knee injury last year. He notched up 2-3 against Monaghan.
Having already accounted for Dublin a couple of weeks ago, Cork will fancy their chances against Donegal. Three weeks is a long time in football and by that stage I expect Donegal to be nearing complete fitness and sharpness by then. This will be a great game for Donegal to win given that Cork are top of the table. They had two points to spare against Dublin and nicked the game with a last gasp point against Monaghan. So they are not that much ahead of the rest.
After last week’s results, this league will go down to the wire. Already Derry look doomed. The result of the weekend was Tyrone’s victory over Mayo in Castlebar. Mickey Harte has reverted to his old, tried and successful system of employing a blanket defence. Time after time, Mayo were forced to shoot from distance and squandered a plethora of chances.
As this league progresses we will be forced to change our opinions about teams. Donegal may have lost in Dublin but, as the team adapts to Rory Gallagher’s style of play, we will improve significantly.
I’ll post you the bars from Dubai next week (probably from the bar)!