Donegal can beat Monaghan in Saturday’s Ulster Championship replay in Kingspan Breffni Park and advance to an unprecedented six provincial final in-a-row.
But, if they are to advance, lessons are going to have to be learned from last Saturday evening’s drawn encounter in the opinion of former Donegal midfielder, Brendan Boyle.
The Ardara man’s intercounty career spanned the best part of a decade at the beginning of the millennium.
The primary school teacher in Creevy NS, outside Ballyshannon, played with all of the senior members of Rory Gallagher’s current Donegal squad when they first cut their senior intercounty careers.
The number one lesson, according to Brendan Boyle, is that Donegal are going to have to win more ball, both in the air and on the loose out around midfield.
Secondly they are going to have to push up on the Monaghan kickouts and not allow them a platform to build from the back.
Thirdly they are going to have run at Monaghan and especially down the middle where they seemed vulnerable last Saturday, and finally Donegal are going to have to be more disciplined in the tackle, especially inside Conor McManus’s scoring zone.
“The boys will be disappointed that they did not hold on when they went two points up late on before conceding those couple of frees to allow Monaghan to level the game,” said Boyle.
“It was very disappointing after we had come back from three down earlier in the half ourselves to go two up. We should have closed the game out at that stage and held on but once again our tackling let us down and ultimately cost us the game. Over half of Monaghan’s scores, eight of their 14 points, came from frees.
“I accept a couple of them from Conor McManus were monster kicks. Monaghan were cute, too. One of the late frees, I think it may have been the second last one, when Dessie Mone was fouled out around the middle of the field.
“But by the time the ball was placed for the free it was over 20 metres nearer our posts after Mone continued to go forward after he was fouled. That kind of cuteness can make the difference in a tight game as it did last Saturday evening and is something we should watch out for.
“We cannot afford to stand off Monaghan and not push up on the kickout like we did on Saturday evening in the first half.
“We are going to have to push up like we did in the second half and we are also going to have to get our hands on more ball in the middle of the field.
“Only for our defence was so good in the first half and especially the full-back line, we could easily have found ourselves behind at half-time.
“I thought the full-back line of Paddy McGrath, Eamonn McGee and Ciaran Gillespie were very good and for a fellow making his first start Ciaran played really well and was a little unlucky not to have scored a goal early in the second half.
“Apart from tightening up on their tackling and conceding less frees, the Donegal defence is solid.”
It is from midfield up that the former midfielder feels that there is the most room for improvement.
“We conceded midfield for a lot of last weekend’s game and it is an area we are going to have to improve this time around. It is not all about winning ball in the air, it is about rolling up the sleeves and getting stuck in and winning broken and loose ball too.”
Brendan Boyle would also play Michael Murphy up front alongside Patrick McBrearty, in a two man full-forward line.
“When Michael was inside last week, he had Vinny Corey in all kinds of bother and Corey didn’t look comfortable and for that reason I would play Michael inside and get the ball in early to him and if we were to I think we could get a couple of goals.
“Overall, I felt Monaghan were very vulnerable down the middle of their defence and any time we attacked them down the middle they were in bother and we were unlucky not to score a couple of goals.
“Ciaran Gillespie was unlucky not to get a goal when he ran down the middle of their defence early in the second half. It took a good save from Rory Beggan to deny him. Anthony Thompson and Martin McElhinney also made a number runs down the middle. Overall we created more goal chances than Monaghan. Mark Anthony (McGinley) didn’t have to make a save.”
Recovery is the key this week and while Donegal has a number of 30-plus men in the squad, the former midfielder does not see it as a major problem.
“First of all it is the same for both Donegal and Monaghan and both sets of age profiles are around the same so I don’t see anyone having an advantage on that front.
“Neither of them will be doing much training this week. It will be a matter of just ticking over and getting as much rest as possible and any of them that have any knocks or bruises getting them looked after and sorted.
“The modern footballer is so professional and they have so many supports between physios and sports psychologists I don’t see it being a problem and certainly no bigger problem for Donegal than Monaghan.”
The replay is expected to be another tough, physical contest along the lines of last week with little between the sides at the finish.
And Brendan Boyle, does not disagree. “Donegal and Monaghan both will have learned lessons from last Saturday and it is now a matter of who has learned the most and make the adjustments to put what they have learned into practice.
“And in the case of Donegal it is a matter tightening up on their discipline in the tackle, winning more ball around midfield, run at Monaghan down the middle and play Michael Murphy inside along with Patrick McBrearty.
“I expect it to be another close game but I still feel it is a game Donegal can win because we have the better footballers.”
Barring injuries, Brendan Boyle does not expect any changes to the starting line up though he would like to see changes made when inevitably they have to be made a little earlier than they were last week.