When Donegal were beaten by Monaghan in last year’s Ulster final and then knocked out of the All-Ireland series by a rampant Mayo it would have been easy for a lot of people to walk away from the county set up.
A number of the older, more experienced players could have questioned whether it was worth giving up another year of their lives for another bit of silverware. No one would have questioned if Jim walked away from it all after last year; he has brought us more success that we could have ever wished for.
I’m sure his patience was tested after the break up of the management team and the well published debate on club fixtures where it seemed Jim was being blamed for a lot of what was going on.
There are many things that can be learned from having a poor year, players and management alike, can take their eye off the ball after winning an All-Ireland and sometimes they forget what got them there in the first place.
Donegal won their All-Ireland title in 2012 because they were extremely fit, had a very good game plan; they supported each other all the time and exploited any weakness the opposition showed. Their game plan was simple, get as many men behind the ball when we hadn’t got the ball. We played a sweeper system with our wing half-forwards being asked to protect our full-back line and then when we had the ball we attacked in numbers and got the ball to Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty as quick as possible.
When they needed it the support was on their shoulder and the opposition found it extremely hard to break down. I know I have simplified it down a bit but it might not have been pretty to watch but it got result.
We got a bit of stick from the national press but who cared as long as we kept winning and when it comes down to it that’s all that matters.
Last Sunday in a packed Letterkenny we saw glimpses of the Donegal that upset those who believe that football should be played the old fashioned way. We closed down Monaghan from high up the field. When Monaghan got past one line of defence there was another line waiting. We tackled hard and we closed down the space so it left it hard for Monaghan to get any room to break us down.
We did concede a few points but when this Donegal team do not give away goals they are hard to beat. By no means was this the best Monaghan have to offer. I would have to say fitness wise they’re not at the same level but if anyone thinks that this game will have a bearing if they meet in the Ulster championship think again.
All Donegal can do in this league is beat the teams that are in front of them but not get carried away because the difference between Division One and Two is growing year after year.
What will give everyone a lift was a the performance of a number of lads who might not be considered as regulars. Ryan McHugh ,while named at corner-back, spent little time there and was excellent in his link up play with the forward line. Martin McElhinney had another good game; his fitness and energy allowed him both to attack and defend when needed and he kicked a brilliant point in the first half. Odhran MacNaillais had undoubtedly his best game in the green and gold; his ability to score from wing half-forward will be a big plus for Jim and his management team; his goal was a bit of class and hopefully more will follow.
Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy had a good game a corner-forward; it’s not easy when you’re only getting a bit of a game here and there but he looked sharp and worked hard for the team; His pass for Colm McFadden’s goal was top drawer.
Mark McHugh, Anthony Thompson and Frank McGylnn looked to be back to their old selves, strong in defence but when the opportunity came their way they supported the forwards at every opportunity. Rory Kavanagh looked sharp in the middle of the field.
It was great to see Christy Toye back; in the last number of games he has shown that he has still plenty to offer. Considering the last few years of injury and sickness he has shown great commitment and courage to stick with it.
Meath are next up in Ballybofey on Sunday; it will be important that we keep on winning to get out of Division Two.
It would be fair to say, like most people, I felt the prospect of the black card was not something to look forward to. There was visions of players being sent to the line for next to nothing but it hasn’t happened yet. There seems to be a reluctance of some referee’ to show the dreaded black card but it has made for more entertaining and free scoring games.
The only problem I see that could happen is when the championship comes around that the match officials will be expected to implement the ruling of the black card it is going to cause huge problems. At the moment players are getting away with tackles that they would not have got away with in the past; if you look back at how the club championship semi-finals were handled, it was free after free with very little let go but when the National League started the same tackle was being let go. The rules can’t be a la carte. I never liked the idea of the black card but if it will cut out the cynical element to the game then it wouldn’t be a bad thing.