As the dust settles on another championship for Donegal seniors it would be easy to have a go or criticise the efforts of those involved. In a season where I thought our best hope of silverware was winning Ulster it was no surprise that Dublin were far too strong for us in the end up.
Watching the game live and then again on television the honest evaluation is simple. Dublin expected us to play a certain way; we did exactly what we have done all year. Dublin worked hard on what they needed to do. Jim Gavin picked his team to suit the Donegal style and while not playing well they were comfortable throughout even after conceding the goal midway through the second half.
Kevin McManamon, Ciaran Kilkenny, Philly McMahon and Brian Fenton dictated the game. They were the go-to guys for the rest of the Dublin team and while in the past Dublin would have went gung ho at Donegal they played Saturday night’s game with a great degree of control and discipline. Regardless of the two red cards, they were extremely disciplined in the way they attacked Donegal, slowing the game down to entice the Donegal defence out, especially when they were in the lead.
While it is easy to be wise after the event you would have to wonder why Ciaran Kilkenny was given so much freedom. I know in the modern game that very few if anyone marks their man; players move from defence into attack and bar maybe the two inside men, everyone else is free. But Kilkenny had so much possession and time on the ball you would have felt someone should have been sent out to pick him up.
It is often a sure sign when you see one team finding scores easier to get that they are in control. Dublin did start the game with the breeze in their backs; I doubt If they won the toss, and they settled quicker because they got a few scores on the board.
Donegal didn’t; they kicked a couple of poor wides early on and were always on the back foot. Against a team like Dublin, or indeed any of the top teams, you cannot afford to let them too far away from you. You have to go out of your shell and attack and that leaves gaps at the back and you're picked off at will.
Every player who got their chance on Saturday night gave their all. The commitment all year could not be questioned; they have held tight as a group even though many from the outside have questioned many of the decisions taken at times especially during the Ulster championship.
It’s hard to understand at times and we all keep going back to it, the use of Michael Murphy. Again on many occasions last Saturday night he found himself behind the full-back line. Is using one of the most prolific scorers in the game today as a sweeper the right use of such a talent. Look at the goal; Eamon McGee made the pass that set up Ryan McHugh; Paddy McGrath fought for a ball underneath the Hill when he probably was needed most in his own back line. Listen, this is not criticism of the players; they are sent out to do a job; they have a certain game plan and have to follow that for the good of the group. However, it is not working; either this year or last. We have no Plan B and for the time and backing the county senior team are afforded it needs to find change.
The disappointment of this year will not be the defeat to Dublin; it will be losing the Ulster final in the closing stages, a game we controlled for 70 odd minutes only to let it slip in the last few minutes and it begs the question is the Ulster championship really that good. Yes, it’s competitive but when you see both finalists knocked out at the quarter-final stage has it got the quality to compete for the Sam Maguire.
To be fair the Donegal management team or players will not look to offer excuses. They will know what went wrong and where they need to improve for next year. The players will be the ones hurting the most; they have put their lives on hold for another year without any result.
I doubt if supporters understand or even consider the sacrifices that these lads make for the sake of their sport and their county, something that should not be forgotten when people are venting their anger after their championship exit.
Going back to last weekend and after watching both games there is a problem with the consistency of the refereeing. I know it’s become next to near impossible to control games that are played with such intensity; players looking to get opponents sent off, questioning every decision taken by the official, players making tackles that are ok with one referee but the next man in charge has a different outlook. None was clearer than the two referees that took charge of the games on Saturday last. They both lacked fitness in the last 15 to 20 minutes and struggled to keep players in line. The second sending off for Dublin was highly questionable and in the first game Aidan O'Shea couldn’t buy a free even though some of the tackles would have been given in the second game.
If the GAA are serious about improving the games then surely they should focus on a proper structure where all match officials are on the same wavelength. Much of the frustration shown by all sets of players at the weekend was down to the lack of clarity when it came to the handling of the games.