I travelled to Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan on Saturday last in buoyant mood and with a feeling that Donegal could do the double. On an evening when there were many highs and lows (in both games), the overriding feeling afterwards is that Gaelic football is only enjoyable at underage level.
The Donegal minors put in a tremendous performance with a midfield dominance from Kieran Gallagher and Jason McGee that we haven’t seen in the county at any level for a long time. And then Donegal were put to the pin of their collar in the second half by a spirited Monaghan side, who reduced an eight point lead back to two.
The Donegal lads and their management will have learned more from the second half than any training or coaching session and they came through it admirably, with some great leaders. Niall O’Donnell, by his own high standards, had a quiet game, but his influence in those important moments was again to the fore; Aidan McLaughlin, too, had a really big game, and there is no reason why these boys can’t go on and lift the Ulster Minor Championship. They gave the Donegal support a great lift prior to the senior game.
Watching minor football is one thing; watching senior championship Gaelic football at the moment is not near as enjoyable. One wonders if there is much enjoyment playing it.
The Donegal-Monaghan senior game was nothing if not tense, but we knew that was going to be the case. I’m sure it was a good game for neutrals, but it was never going to be easy to watch from a non-neutral viewpoint.
The sportsmanship, or lack of it, is something that should be looked at. And there’s no point in either side whining, as both were at it. The treatment meted out to Michael Murphy throughout the game is something that he has endured before (remember Tyrone), but having water squirted in his face by a mentor and having players running into him to try and get him black carded should be dealt with by the referee or his assistants.
Having watched the game again (twice), the tackle on Frank McGlynn was the most dangerous committed over the 70+ minutes and cost Donegal dearly as the Glenfin man was effectively ‘taken out’. Indeed the Sky pundits, Senan Connell and James Horan, alluded to the tackle and said that if it had been committed by Paddy McGrath or Eamon McGee instead of Conor McManus, then it might have been punished with a red card.
On the other side of the fence, Donegal will have to take a serious look at their organisation off the field, which attracted far too much attention, both from the TV pundits and the national press.
Quite recently, clubs in Donegal were issued with match-day regulations which clearly outline the make-up of and the responsibilities around dug-outs (who can be on the field, etc).
Indeed, on one occasion less than a month ago I witnessed a situation at a club match where a current county player, not participating, was asked to watch the game from outside the fence. The referee was just implementing the rules.
I’m not sure if the same rules apply at intercounty level, but I can only assume that they do. Donegal’s lack of organisation on the sideline and members of management being so visible on the playing area was the main contributing factor in six minutes being added on at the end of Saturday night’s contest.
Remember Donegal were leading by two points as the game entered added time and they will be most disappointed that they did not close out the game.
The other area where Donegal will need to improve greatly is discipline. When the referee blows for a free, he is not going to change his mind. On at least three occasions on Saturday, Monaghan had frees moved on; two of them resulted in scores. Monaghan were not penalised in this way. There has to be a lesson in this.
Donegal just have to become a little more streetwise in this regard, because the overriding factor from Saturday’s game is that we have the better players and we can win the replay.
To do so, there are many areas where we can improve.
The obvious one is our return from frees, but doing some analysis of the wides over the two games on Saturday evening, it is obvious that there was a difficulty scoring into the ‘town’ goals. In the minor game the two teams shared 14 wides, 11 of which were at the ‘town’ end side, while in the senior game, 20 wides were recorded with 14 of them at the ‘town’ end, Donegal and Monaghan with exactly the same number, each recording seven wides into the ‘town’ end and three at the other side.
Those statistics may not fully explain the shooting of Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty (although Donegal supporters were adamant that McBrearty’s free in the second half should have been recorded as a score).
With an improvement in that area and a better conversion rate from our goal chances, we would have been comfortable winners.
One other aspect of the game from a Donegal point of view was our substitutions, or lack of them. In a contest that was so physical, we were in the 65th minute before introducing our first sub. This was in contrast to our game against Fermanagh, when we replaced the yellow carded Rory Kavanagh after 13 minutes!
One of the things noted during the two games so far in the Ulster championship was the absence of Stephen McBrearty from the match-day 26.
Well done Seamie
Seamie Coleman returned to a hero’s welcome in Killybegs on Monday night and deservedly so.
While Ireland went out of the Euros to the hosts, France, on Sunday, they gave their hordes of supporters many happy memories, not least outplaying and defeating Italy the previous Wednesday evening, with Seamie wearing the captain’s armband.
He retained that armband on Sunday and even though he's a quiet and unassuming individual off the field, he showed his leadership qualities on the field, driving on his teammates to give everything they had. He is likely to retain that armband for a long time.
With a number of young players, like another of our own, Shane Duffy, being introduced during the past few weeks, the future looks bright for Seamie and Ireland.