Kerry may have won the battle but they have not won the war. Donegal came out of Tralee bruised, battered and beaten by a team who out thought and out fought us on the day.
I believe that Donegal were collectively undisciplined and played into Kerry’s hands. From the outset we looked like the antagonists who needed to settle some scores. It was a day when we needed cool heads and cool tempers. Last week, Anthony Molloy and I reminisced with Joyce McMullin at the occasion of Joyce’s mother’s wake about Donegal playing Kerry back in the day. We agreed how they used to piddle through us while we stood back and admired them. Along with their silky skills, Kerry always had a rough and raw edge about them. Their 37 All-Ireland titles were not won with simply pretty football. We learned so much from how Kerry played.
Thank God for Brian McEniff and Jim McGuinness that we no longer let them ruffle or ridicule us. That day has long passed.
Going forward, I believe that hard lessons will have been learned from this tempestuous outing in Tralee. I can only comment from the luxury of my sitting room where I watched the match on TG4. It’s far too cold yet for an ould boy like me to be taking arduous trips to southern Ireland in the depths of winter.
It seemed that Donegal were intent on not being bullied by Kerry from the outset. Hugh McFadden was obviously given the job of thwarting the massive figure of Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy. Hugh is a nice lad and is still learning his trade as a midfielder. From the throw-in Donaghy wins the ball and a free. Michael Murphy snatches the ball from Donaghy and Donaghy fires Murphy to the ground. A melee ensues. Shortly after, Neil McGee is holding Alan Fitzgerald’s hand under his arm. Fitzgerald retaliates with a string of punches to McGee’s face. Fitzgerald is sent off but McGee has to leave the pitch with profuse bleeding aided by Donegal the team doctor who is trying to hold McGee’s hand. McGee pushes him off. Tempers are obviously soaring.
Still, Donegal had the advantage. We were a man up and Kerry were livid. They received two black cards in the 24th minute which infuriated the Kerry players and supporters even further. They were baying for blood namely in the form of a Donegal player’s dismissal. Stupidly we gave them what they wanted. Leo McLoone was sacrificed after another bust up when a number of players from both teams could have been sent off.
In the second half we had still the advantage because we now had the strong wind in our favour. After trailing at the break we were soon on equal terms. Out of nothing Kerry got a goal. To be honest we never recovered from this although from the two balls that we did kick long the Kerry defence panicked. Paddy McBrearty’s effort was saved while Michael Murphy did score a goal.
Our defeat to Kerry is by no means a disaster. On the day Kerry made use of the partisan supporters. This was always going to be Donegal’s toughest test of the league. There are obviously places up for grabs in the Donegal team which is always a healthy sign. It is encouraging to see youngsters make the breakthrough. At corner back Eoghan Ban Gallagher was steady and Eoin McHugh is well capable of holding his place in the half-forward line. Ciaran Thompson from Glenties is a class act, who will surely push for a starting place in the summer. Odhran Mac Niallais and Marty O'Reilly are maturing all the time. Hugh McFadden, Patrick McBrearty and Ryan McHugh are all still wanes who have great careers ahead of them. Ryan McHugh has been, by far, Donegal’s outstanding player this year to date. He, like his dad Martin, will be one of the ‘greats’ in Donegal football. He is naturally gifted with technical ability, pace and he is as tough as you get.
Above all, young Ryan is modest with a passion for the game. After we defeated Monaghan in the Ulster final in 2014, a group of youngsters from a Monaghan club were introduced to the Donegal players in our dressing room after the game. I watched as Ryan pulled one of the young lads to the side. Ryan ruffled through his bag and gave the bemused lad two pairs of his football gloves. This was done discreetly and without a fuss. This is a small gesture but huge in terms of what Ryan McHugh is made of.
Donegal will be sore mentally and physically after the weekend. Roscommon will pose an altogether different proposition this Sunday. Although the ‘Rossies’ are going well, I believe that Donegal will want to redeem themselves with a victory. It is going to be another interesting weekend.
I was highly insulted on my recent trip to Cape Town when many of the locals called me “pop”. This weekend’s game takes place in Letterkenny so it is near enough for “pop” to travel.
See you there!