Donegal have had almost two weeks to prepare for the challenge of Cork in Croke Park this Saturday in the All-Ireland qualifiers. The two weeks will have been used to sooth the emotional wounds from the defeat in the Ulster final.
Nobody in the county will have been more hurt than the players. They have two choices: either to lick their wounds and crumble or to come out fighting and play without fear. The championship has now entered the business end of the contest. This is not the path that Donegal had intended to take but we have no choice but to play whichever team is now put before us. It is great to get back into Croke Park because a victory against Cork will set up an appetising encounter against the Dubs.
It is difficult to ignore the negative national media thrown Donegal’s way in recent times. We are being blamed for introducing a negative system into the game. As far as I remember it was Mickey Harte and Tyrone who first employed a defensive system which proved fruitful for the O’Neill County in the early 2000s. Brian Dooher, who lined out in the half-forward line, was often employed in a defensive role then. I believe that Jim McGuinness simply tweaked a system which brought Donegal great success since 2011.
Glenswilly and St.Eunan’s managed to score a meagre five points between them in a league game last weekend. This has not gone unnoticed by the national media. They have ridiculed the score line of 0-3 to 0-2 with glee. Whether we like it or not the system is there and if Jim McGuinness hadn’t introduced the defensive system then somebody else would have.
Gaelic games, especially football, is in trouble, not because defensive systems are being employed but because of the structure of the championship. Kerry stroll into Sunday’s quarter-final having beaten Division 3 team Clare in the Munster championship semi-final by 12 points on June 12th. Three weeks later they beat another Division 3 team, Tipperary, by ten points in the Munster final. After a four week break they now face Clare again in the All-Ireland quarter final on Sunday. It’s an absolute joke.
Clare and Tipperary beat Roscommon and Derry respectively last Saturday in the qualifiers. To reach the last eight is a milestone for two teams most noted for their hurling prowess and not for football. Both teams must be given credit for their achievements but in fairness Roscommon and Derry are not considered amongst the better teams in the country. It has to be pointed out that Kerry’s route thus far is not their doing.
If Cork had any bottle they would have contested the Munster final as usual. That is one reason why Donegal will beat Cork this Saturday. They will come up against a hurting Donegal team who should have beaten Tyrone. I feel that a resounding victory over the Leesiders will put Donegal right back on track.
We did little wrong against Tyrone in the Ulster final. I felt that we lacked ambition and played within ourselves. Croke Park is familiar territory for Donegal and a massive fish awaits us the following weekend. Dublin have been installed as strong favourites to retain their All-Ireland title this year. The character Lloyd in the film ‘Dumb and Dumber’ said “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” after Mary Swanson told him that the chances of them ending up together was “one in a million”. When we play Dublin I’d say that the odds will be a bit lower than that but we need Lloyd’s attitude!
Yes of course there’s a chance. Despite losing the Ulster final, Donegal are still a serious team and nobody will want to play us. Great lessons will have been learned this past two weeks. Since we’ve been written off by all and sundry there is no pressure on the team. The players will want to win this game for themselves since they know that they did not do themselves justice against Tyrone. We have a great bunch of lads who are winners. I would like to see them go out on to the hallowed turf of Croke Park and express themselves.
As Brian McEniff used to tell us back in the day, “go at them like the waves of Tory”. I believe that Cork are hanging in there by a thread and do not have the stomach for a fight. All we need is a victory and normal service will be resumed.
GOOD LUCK TO MINORS
Our minors also go into battle with Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final before the senior game. They have done their county proud and I wish them all the best for Saturday. Let’s hope that I am writing about a double success next week. Chins up Donegal.
Keep the faith!