Donegal and Monaghan will square off again on Saturday evening after playing out a thrilling draw last weekend. I thought that our lads were magnificent throughout and stood up to Monaghan’s physical approach.
Tactically, Rory Gallagher got his match-ups right. We all can be wise in hindsight and say that we should have won this game. I was glad that Michael Murphy played in a more advanced position and that Paddy McGrath was matched with Monaghan’s Conor McManus. Paddy had a great game. We can take a lot of encouragement from our overall performance. Considering that Monaghan annihilated Down in their previous game and that we were without Neil McGee, there are so many positives for Donegal going into the replay.
This was by far the best game of the championship so far this season. Eoin McHugh, Ryan McHugh and Martin O’Reilly carried the game to Monaghan with their incisive pace and technical ability. These are three small men who endured the hard hitting Monaghan players. Odhran Mac Niallais once again proved his class with a terrific goal, his and Donegal’s third in the championship to date.
Strength in depth is a key requirement if a team is to challenge for honours in championship football. Young Kieran Gillespie did very well for his first championship start. Stephen McBrearty and Ciaran Thompson are proven U-21 talents and I would have liked to see them introduced. Leo McLoone was another surprise exclusion from the starting line-up and even more surprising was that he wasn’t used as a substitution. I’m assuming that these players were carrying niggles. I’m looking from the outside in so I’m merely conjecturing.
It’s interesting to listen to the general opinions of some supporters during and after the game. I’d rather not include them because they are offensive to say the least. I wondered if they were watching the same game as I was. Perhaps I see games from a different perspective. I, like every other inter-county player, listened to an awful lot of garbage from certain individuals throughout my playing career.
I remember a particular incident way back in a time when I captained Donegal when Tom Conaghan was manager. We played Cavan in Ballybofey just before Christmas in the National League.
It was our last game before the festive break. After our team meal in the ‘U Drop Inn’ I was sitting at the bar with my wife in the company of Brendan Dunleavy and his wife, Martina. This middle-aged, well- dressed gentleman approached me to give me his opinion about how I played that particular day. He obviously was irate with the draw we played out. “I’ll buy you a f…ing ball for Christmas,” he blasted. Martina asked him “why”? I was ignoring him. He ranted on that I “carried the ball up and down the field and wouldn’t pass it to anybody else.” He continued to use many more expletives, basically telling me that I was useless. Martina eventually asked him, “Do you know this man’s name?” “Aye, he’s Joyce McMullin.”
Does this not tell you what players sometimes have to deal with? I hope that he got Joyce’s address and posted him that ball!
It must be said that the majority of Donegal’s followers are genuine and are always supportive of their players. As a full blooded supporter myself these days, I’m looking forward to the replay on Saturday evening back in Cavan. Whichever team learns the most from the drawn game will prevail. I cannot see either team changing their approach or tactics radically. The short turn-around may force a few changes in personnel.
I talked about discipline last week and again at times our indiscipline let us down. Martin McElhinney was harshly black carded I thought. Martin is one of our unsung heroes on our team. He is robust, direct and very physical which are the perfect ingredients for championship football.
We conceded too many frees in our defensive area. We have a well-balanced team with superior technical ability than Monaghan. Rather than perceiving last Saturday’s result as a game that we should have won or the game that we threw away, I see it as a game that we can improve on where we learned so much.
Our lads are still hurting from the defeat to the Monaghan team in last year’s Ulster final. Monaghan threw everything they had against Donegal last Saturday. They went into the game with a swagger believing that Donegal would fold. Monaghan are no world beaters. They do a lot of chest pumping and try to antagonise their opponents. Our lads have been around too long to pay any heed to this. I believe that it is Monaghan who lost their chance. Roll on Saturday evening.
Elsewhere, Dublin had another challenge match; this time against Meath in the Leinster semi-final. Westmeath prevailed against a poor Kildare outfit in the other semi-final but it hardly matters. These were two dour affairs which did little to enhance the current format of the championship.
The real action is in Ulster, particularly this weekend when we have replays in the two semi-finals. I expect Tyrone to overwhelm Cavan and Donegal to eclipse Monaghan.
Tir Conaill Abu!