Donegal and Monaghan will do it all again on Saturday night. If it comes even close to what went on last weekend we will have another clinker. As I said last week, this was never going to be pretty; it was always going to be a tight, dogged affair with nothing given away for free.
Donegal will probably look back at the last five minutes and think what we could and should have done to close out the game. Hindsight is a great tool but considering we were two points up with a lot of experienced players on the field we should have closed out the field.
Both teams could point to the fact that they missed some extremely good chances. You don’t expect players of this class and ability to miss but with the intensity of the game and the little time they had to get their shot away maybe it’s reasonable to allow for such misses.
Yes we can point to a number of missed frees in the second half, both from Michael Murphy and one from Paddy McBrearty. It’s unlike the two lads to miss but that’s football. I certainly would bet on the two lads to get it right the next day out.
One thing that did stand out last Saturday evening was Donegal’s ability to pass the ball through the middle of the Monaghan defence and create goal chances. It’s something that was very noticeable at the start of the National League that they had been working on this tactic and with the pace of the players we have, Monaghan were wide open down the middle and I have no doubt it will be something they will try to get right for this weekend’s encounter.
What might be disappointing to the Donegal management was that we lost a lot of ball by carrying it into the tackle. We tried to commit the Monaghan defence to the tackle but they always had backup to make it awkward for the player on the ball. Also we pulled everyone behind the ball in the last few minutes instead of having an outlet up front when we were in possession of the ball. They’re only little things that went wrong but it let Monaghan of the hook and put another game on a lot of players who looked out on their feet when the final whistle blew.
The commitment and endeavour shown by both sets of players shows how much the Ulster championship means to them. When you look at other provincial championship games there is nothing near the same intensity. While I would have been critical of Joe McQuillan, the Cavan official, in the past, I thought he did well to keep a handle on the game and let it flow as much as he could. Yes, he missed some things but when a game is played at such pace and players flying into tackles and everyone wants to win the ball, it can be expected.
We could, maybe, be disappointed with the last two frees but if the shoe was on the other foot we would have expected him to give them. After the Fermanagh game many would have doubted whether this Donegal squad was anywhere near to the performance like last weekend. The older lads showed that they’re still up for it and the younger lads that have been introduced in the last few seasons have developed and are starting to lead the charge.
Saturday night next will be no different than last week’s battle. I expect the same sort of tight, dogged affair with little time for players on the ball, but what I also expect is that both sides will improve in front of goals and the team who limits their mistakes will be the side going through to the Ulster final. Last week’s performance gives me renewed hope that we can get another shot at the Anglo Celt.
It’s being an amazing month or so for Irish soccer and indeed the country. Often in the past we have to endure the criticism from many of the usual pundits that the national broadcaster puts our way. They question the commitment from many of the non-Irish born players; they will always have a go at the management and who they pick or don’t pick. They never seem to be happy with anything.
Ireland is a small country split in two. We don’t have the huge resources like many other countries yet we do at times qualify for major tournaments and with the greatest respect qualifying is a feat in itself.
There will be so many memories from France 2016, especially for those who were able to travel over but also for those who played. Who will ever forget the scenes after the Italian game? Seamie Coleman leading out the team, the noise when Robbie Brady headed in Wes Hoolahan’s brilliant cross, going 1-0 up against France and hoping against hope, could it happen the unthinkable?
Well, as someone once said, to be Irish is never going to be straightforward. The French ended the dream and the players bade farewell to an army of fans that lifted the nation once again. We often don’t get to brag about being Irish but this summer we were all a little taller; people had a smile on their face and everyone looked forward to every game with some optimism. The players lifted the hearts of everyone and did not only themselves but the whole country proud.