Over the last few years Donegal have had the Indian sign over our neighbours Derry. In last year’s first round game we came through after a bit of a rocky start but with the experience and guile picked up over the years and the scoretaking ability of Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy we came through in the end.
After the game Brian McIver questioned some of the decisions made by the referee on the day and wanted many of them explained to him and he was at a loss. Giving his interview to RTE radio the mild mannered McIver was angry and was unhappy at the treatment handed down to his players by the official on the day.
Derry went out to Longford in the Qualifiers and many would have us believe that football in the Oak Leaf county was going nowhere. In this year’s National League they could hardly muster up a decent performance and were relegated to Division Two, losing five games out of the seven.
Against Down in the first round they struggled at times to come to terms with the fast running Mourne men who themselves were poor on the day. Pat Spillane described it has the worst 72 minutes of his life and he would never get them back. The game was poor and it wasn’t helped by a poor decision by the referee to send off the Down wing half-back Connell Mc Govern for a so-called strike that was later rescinded. Even with 14 men Down could have and would probably have felt should have got at least a draw considering the amount of possession and chances they didn’t take advantage off.
Derry, on the other hand, relied heavily on Eoin Bradley at full-forward and Mark Lynch, who plays a free role between the forties. They packed the defence and tried to break out of defence quickly but were themselves poor in front of goals. They lacked the confidence of a team that is used to winning. You could see the relief on the players’ faces and by their reaction when the game was over that they needed to win this one. They go into the game on Saturday night knowing that Donegal are on a roll, two good performances against Tyrone and a very comprehensive win against a poor Armagh side have our expectations sky high for the summer ahead.
Donegal are used to going into games now as favourites. They’re use to the hype generated by the media and have learned to turn off to what supporters might say in their company; they are professional athletes who know their job and have learned to cope with whatever is thrown at them.
I heard it suggested this week that maybe after the Sligo-Roscommon game where Sligo as total underdogs outplayed a much fancied Roscommon side who struggled to match the tenacity and commitment shown by the Sligo lads.
Donegal should beat Derry on Saturday night; there is little argument with what Donegal have offered in the last four years. They are extremely hard to beat; they will play the same game against Derry as they would play against Dublin or Kerry. The players play to the system and so far very few teams have been able to come to terms with it never mind about beating it.
The Donegal lads will go into the game only concerned about how they play; they will pinpoint the main Derry threats but for the best part they will only concern themselves with how they play, how they set up, how they react to certain circumstances. Regardless who they play it will always be the same and they won’t take Derry for granted. Neither Rory Gallagher or Michael Murphy will let them.
Derry go into the game with nothing to lose. Even their own supporters will not give them much of a chance but players are different; they will know if Donegal are not at their best and they can somehow put it together they will have a chance. In last year’s championship game Derry put Lynch, their best player, on Karl Lacey, a move that backfired. Eoin Bradley will line out at full-forward and his encounter with Neil McGee will be worth keeping a eye on. Against Down they withdrew everyone back into the backline when they lost possession. If you can remember back to the National League game against Dublin in Croke Park, they smothered the Dublin attack for 65 minutes before succumbing to the National League winners but they did show that they could close down the space and reduce the amount of scoring opportunities to the opposition.
It would not surprise me if McIver used the Dublin game in preparation for Saturday night’s game. Where Donegal differ and where they have more strength-in-depth is their ability to get more players on the scoreboard. Lacey, McHugh, McGlynn, Gallagher and MacNaillais have all helped on the scoring front; put that along with the ability of McBrearty, Colm McFadden, McElhinney and of course, Michael Murphy, you are always going to create chances.
While I don’t like those who dismiss the chances of other teams it’s hard to make a case for Derry against a Donegal team who in the first two games of the championship have shown the hunger, intensity, commitment and determination that have made them into the side that have dominated Ulster football since 2011. Of course, Derry have a chance but it’s an outside one but you can never underestimate what can happen in sport. David can always get one over on Goliath. Hopefully not this weekend .