When Donegal beat Laois in last year’s Division Two National League decider in April you would have thought that it would take a long time for the Leinster side to improve to such a point that they would be able to handle the step up to Division One.
You would also have felt at the time, especially the way the summer had turned out for Donegal, that it would only improve Donegal’s players for the up coming championship.
After last Sunday’s defeat at the hands of Laois it may be time to reconsider those thoughts. If any team has improved dramatically it is Laois. Considering their manager Justin McNulty comes from the great Armagh team that dominated Ulster football for nearly ten years and the way they placed a lot of emphasis on physical strength and power, it is no great surprise to see how he has moulded this Laois team in their likeness.
On Sunday last they played the same game tactically that Armagh played a few years ago at the same venue where they just steamrolled over us.
We, as a county, are not blessed with a lot of big men who are capable of playing intercounty football at this present time and while we have plenty of good honest, hard working players, when we are faced with this physical strength we don’t seem to be able to handle it.
Are we doing something different that other counties are not? Do we look at how good a footballer each player is without maybe taking into consideration what type of physique and power that is needed for the modern game.
To be fair to Jim and his management team, this has always been the way in Donegal football. We like to watch good footballers and sometimes we don’t appreciate the player who does the dirty work all around them.
I can think of going to many club or county games where that certain type of player was getting nothing but abuse from the sidelines; he would always pass to the man in the best position; he would be the one that would track back to help out his defence and if he had to would take a yellow or red card if required for the team.
While I wouldn’t be over critical of last Sunday’s performance, we are still missing a few very influential players and it’s still early in the year, but what I would point to is while the workrate is still there and the fitness levels are high, from the outside, the same team spirit does not seem to be there.
Maybe the whole Cassidy affair has taken its toll. I’m not blaming Kevin because I think a lot of it has been blown out of all proportion by the national media, but I do think it has had some sort of affect on the squad as a whole and something that Jim and the players will have to address in the coming weeks or our season could go down hill very quickly.
On the game itself it was hard to pick out any of the Donegal players who played anyhere near what they are capable of but Anthony Thompson, Neil Gallagher (when he came out to the middle) and Patrick McBrearty were probably our best. I thought Martin O’Reilly gave a good account of himself and is more than capable of playing at this level.
If there was a downside to our defeat on Sunday it was that there was very little cover for Neil McGee at full-back. We allowed Laois time and space out the field to put good ball into Clancy at full-forward and he caused us real harm. A lot of our defenders were more concerned about joining in the attack and I know it’s something the Donegal management team look for but you will not get away with it in Division One against the best players in the country.
But while you need to look back to improve what you’re not doing, there is no point dwelling on it. We have to the 4th of March to turn things around for the visit of Cork to Ballybofey and it’s important that as supporters we have patience with the management and the players alike.
One point I would say. Before the fixtures were put in place Jim McGuinness said he would have rather played Laois in Ballyshannon and Mayo in Letterkenny. Remembering that Fr. Tierney Park is a little tighter than O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny, and I don’t know the politics of the situation or want to know, I would have thought if Jim wanted to play a certain team in a certain venue it would have been in the best interest of the team.
Just a thought.