Let’s start this week of on a good note. What a night for Killybegs, Donegal and the Coleman family to see Seamie wear the captain’s armband against Switzerland at last Friday night’s friendly in the Aviva. It is some story and one that will hopefully inspire generations to come.
Donegal’s game with Dublin was billed as some sort of part two after the famous All-Ireland semi-final of 2014. Donegal won that game but with tactics that were seldom ever seen in Croker. Why many in the media thought last Saturday night’s game would be anywhere close to that I am not sure. Why would Rory Gallagher or Jim Gavin want to show their hands before the championship and players are not near the fitness or intensity levels they would be in August.
But saying all that what we got in one word was “rubbish”. You could look for someone to blame for such a game but it’s impossible to point a finger at anyone.
First of all coming into the game it’s hyped up even though to the players and the management teams it’s only a league game. Match officials are under pressure because it’s live on the television; it’s in headquarters so the idea that they could not miss anything increases the pressure on the officials. When players take the field, regardless of how they set up, what match tactics they employ, they above all want to win the game. That’s why they play the game, no other reason.
Over the last week huge criticism has been levelled at Donegal for playing such a negative type of game. Rory gave a couple of young fellas a chance to play in a big game; he is blending in another few so it’s reasonable to assume that he, above everything, did not want to get a hammering and if you played the same way against Dublin as we did against Roscommon that’s exactly what we would have got.
I don’t agree with that sort of match tactics as I think it’s too hard to get scores and generally you need a few goals to win the game. Stopping teams and frustrating them can work and it has in the past but more and more teams are using different tactics to counteract the swarming defence; they run at angles; they offload the ball quickly and they rarely kick the ball into the men inside. Simple stuff you might think but in the heat of battle it’s the very best players who can keep their wits about them and they’re the ones that stand out.
Dublin themselves have introduced a number of new names to the fold during this league campaign and they have flourished but at times against Donegal on Saturday night they showed their inexperience and it’s something I have no doubt will be brought to their attention during training this week.
Dublin have learned from that semi-final in 2014 and in the second half they showed that little bit of craft that certainly was missing in the past. For Donegal the sending off of Michael Murphy was a big moment in the game and certainly a big talking point. The first yellow card was a terrible decision by a referee who made plenty. The second yellow I doubt he will argue much about because the tackle was a bit late. However, he didn’t at any time touch Ciaran Kilkenny who, to be fair, just got up and got on with it. I think too many referees (and linesmen for that matter) react to the call of the crowd. Far too often they’re influenced by outside shouts and maybe in the back of their minds is an incident that happened with the same player in another game.
I agree with Rory Gallagher in his statement to the press. Murphy is judged different to other players. He is a big lad and is aggressive in winning the ball; he is a leader and that’s the edge he needs when he plays the game. Take that away from him he may not be the same player. However, because he is big and strong he is not afforded the same protection as smaller, slighter players.
So what of next Sunday’s meeting with Monaghan, a game they will need to win if they are to get to the semi-final. Mayo, who are also on four points, are at home to Down and with the way things have gone for the Mourne men this year you would have to expect a Mayo win, leaving Monaghan in a tight spot.
What plan will Rory and his management team have for playing a league semi-final or indeed final. Have they planned around that scenario or do they think playing one or indeed two extra games will knock them off their schedule for the championship.
There is a fair chance that we could meet Monaghan in the Ulster championship semi-final so do we want to show our hand. While many might believe you go out and win every game with your best team that is not always the right formula for success in the long run and while the National League might seem important now, come the17th of July or the third week in September, they’re the days that matter.