There was a disconsolate look etched on the Donegal players’ faces as they trudged off Croke Park last Sunday afternoon. It must be said that we were playing the best team in the country. Dublin were by far the better team in a game that was one sided particularly in the second half.
We looked a shadow of the team that represented Donegal in 2014. I accept that Dublin are far ahead than the rest of the country except for Kerry but, I am concerned about many aspects of our game. Often we seemed clueless. Often we played as individuals lacking direction. We offered little up front in terms of a scoring threat. Defensively we were loose on our opponents. Our man marking wasn’t as tight as it normally is. We ran into cul-de-sacs and turned over on a number of occasions. It certainly was a reality check.
We can be disappointed at some of the chances that we missed plus some of the scores that we conceded. I would love to be able to paper over the crack but I have to call it as I saw it.
I appreciate that Dublin are a different animal than the majority of intercounty teams. They have strength in depth. I remarked a simple facet of their game which we did not do or were unable to do. They hand passed the ball at lightening speed. The ball is driven into the receiver. They rarely solo the ball. Their players are constantly on the move creating space while simultaneously providing a range of options for the person who is in possession of the ball.
Dublin also have the ability to mix their style of play. They employ short intricate passing at times but then will kick a long ball when the opportunity arises. They wait for the right moment. Football is about decision making. This is what impressed me most. Their players rarely made the wrong choice. They are the benchmark for the rest of the country.
Poor Roscommon learned a hard lesson at Headquarters last Sunday. Like Donegal they succumbed to a much better and stronger team. It was unfortunate for Roscommon that Kerry are peaking in time for an onslaught on the championship. The rest of the country will have had their eyes opened at the gulf between the top two teams and the rest. Kerry were very impressive on the day.
It is difficult to know if inexperience on Roscommon’s part played any significant role. It was like men against boys. Like Dublin, Kerry have many scoring options. Probably their best forward James O’Donoghue wasn’t even playing.
Again I would like to give Roscommon the benefit of the doubt but the reality is that they are far off the top two teams yet. Irrespective of which teams played against Dublin and Kerry last Sunday I believe that the same outcomes would have resulted. To be beaten by ten points, which were the margins of defeat for both Donegal and Roscommon, is a hammering on any day.
I am only really concerned with Donegal and how we can fix the problems prevailing in our play. This is not a time to be irrational. It is two months yet before Donegal embark on their championship campaign. Maintaining Division 1 status was our primary objective. The league semi-final was a bonus only achieved by four teams. Donegal were one of them. Our team is very talented and very experienced. We have some players who are not completely match fit yet. Over the next seven weeks Rory Gallagher will have sufficient time to remedy this as well as addressing the weaknesses in our game. The league was used to blood some new talent which is always a necessity.
Our league campaign is done and dusted so the focus shifts wholly to the championship. This in itself will be a huge motivating factor for our players. The squad were given last week off before Sunday’s semi-final. I don’t know why but I’m sure that Rory Gallagher has his reasons. We have been spoiled in Donegal by Jim McGuinness’s tremendous feats in the recent past and we tend to gauge our current form against that. We have the best manager equipped for the job in situ now. It is easy to criticise managers and players in the aftermath of a defeat or in our case defeats. These lads will bounce back for sure.
Like Roscommon we got a hard lesson in Dublin last Sunday. Rory Gallagher is very realistic about his team. He knows their parameters. He has always said the championship is our focus. We cannot dwell on this heavy defeat but instead concentrate on where we can improve. I have no doubt that the lads will bite the bullet and assess their own individual performances.
It is time for constructive criticism from management, address the issues and restore confidence. It may be a difficult pill to swallow for now but believe that the championship will see a re-energised Donegal.
Keep the faith.