As championship games go last Sunday’s encounter with Fermanagh will not be one that will get many hits on the Youtube list; some memorable moments but overall not one that will be talked about in 10 or 20 years from now.
When the draw was made I thought, regardless of how the result ends up, it will be hard to know where you stand before you go into the semi-final against Monaghan. The point being if you won the game by 10 or 15 points everyone would point to the fact that it was only Fermanagh; if you only managed to get over the line by a couple of points the attention would have been on Fermanagh so either way you were on a loser.
Fermanagh were not bad last Sunday and they will look at the three or four goal chances they wasted and think on another day they would have had a memorable win but they were nowhere near what they were like in the Qualifiers last year. They struggled with their fitness levels in the last 20 minutes and Donegal were only seeing out the game at that stage.
Rory Gallagher and his management team will be glad to get the game out of the way. They will have a better idea in terms of fitness and tactical play where exactly they are. They will know what they will need to do ing the next week or so for the challenge of Monaghan and they will have a better idea in terms of player performance who exactly is in the right place at the moment.
Where we will have to be and what we will have to do to get the better of Monaghan is a discussion for next week but there is little doubt that a vast improvement in all aspects of our game will be needed if we are to reach another Ulster final.
There were times last Sunday that Donegal looked as good as they ever did, but that was going forward, great support play with quick hands and some clinical finishing. However, at the other end we were wide open and only for some great saves from Mark Anthony McGinley we could have been in a lot of trouble. I know we can point to the fact that we played the second half with only 14 players but funny enough I thought we tightened up more when we knew Neil McGee was not there to cover up.
I would not be too hopeful of a reprieve in McGee’s case. Mind you they showed it enough times on TV to make sure he wouldn’t get off.
In a lot of cases in the first half it was left to Hugh McFadden, Anthony Thompson and Michael Murphy to cover at the back while the others joined in the attack. That’s fine when the ball came out of the Fermanagh defence slowly but when it was delivered at pace we ended up fouling them and to be fair to Tomas Corrigan he took full advantage and kept Fermanagh in the game for a long time.
Maybe if the penalty had to be scored it may have caused a bit of bother but sport is not about ifs or buts. I’m not one for ‘let’s just look for the positives and forget about the things we did wrong’. In order to get better and go forward all aspects of our game needs to be looked at and if it has to be in a forceful or negative manner so be it.
Whether it is right or wrong our expectations have grown in the last six years and we have become used to playing in Ulster finals and capable of going further. Last Sunday’s performance, if I’m honest, was not inspiring. Why? Well it’s only the first game and yes the bigger challenges are ahead but confidence comes from playing well and everyone in the group doing the right things in order for the team to improve and be competitive. It’s only with that confidence and inner belief do teams reach higher that maybe they think they can.
Rory will know there is a lot of work to be done but there were a lot of good performances last Sunday. One highlight would certainly be the performance and saves of McGinley in goals; Paddy McGrath was certainly back to his best; Frank McGlynn put in his usual energetic performance and had a hand in both goals. Odhran Mac Niallais was more like himself, getting on the ball and both finishes were top class. Marty O’Reilly worked his socks off as usual and as he has got more game time he has added a lot more to his game. Hugh McFadden and Anthony Thompson, while not maybe adding much to the attacking end of the play, worked extremely hard to keep things tight at the back.
One aspect of the game that was very noticeable was the subdued performance of Michael Murphy. Such are the standards he has set once he has a quiet game everyone is on his back. Even when he is quiet, he is still the heart of the side. His workrate is phenomenal for such a big man but most of all as captain he is a team player, something that can be overlooked by many who watch and have never known the value of such a player. Murphy and Paddy McBrearty will still be the go to men when we go at Monaghan in a couple of weeks and both have the capability and class of winning any game.
Muhammad Ali once said: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” No truer words for a man who will live forever.