Should we have been surprised on Saturday afternoon when the Donegal U-21 dream died in Kingspan Breffni Park? Had they really a chance against a team that were rested up and lying in wait for over two weeks?
We will never know, but we can rest assured we didn’t see the real Donegal in Cavan on Saturday.
I’m not sure how the management handled the short run-in from Monday night to Saturday lunchtime, but given the schedule that many of this Donegal U-21 side have had since the beginning of February, there were genuine excuses that the tank was empty.
This is the last year of the U-21 competition and I have commented in the past that maybe that is for the good. It couldn’t continue in the slot it has at the moment, with four provinces running their own show; young players being pulled from pillar to post between club, county senior, county U-21 and college - four different managers all wanting a bit of them.
Take Eoghan Bán Gallagher as an example. Boy did he try to lift his side on Saturday, but you could see that he didn’t have the energy that was there at the start of the campaign.
Eoghan is one of a number of Donegal players who had just too much football during the month of March.
There are lessons which must be learned from what happened. The Ulster Council need to take a look at their input. Their rigid fixture schedule broke down. They didn't give themselves room for postponements. And in relation to the late postponement of the semi-final against Cavan because of torrential rain, why wasn't the option of playing the game the following night (Thursday) not used.
Next year there will be an U-20 competition, run in conjunction with the Ulster Senior Championship and U-20 players who make the 26 for the Ulster senior championship will be ineligible for the U-20 competition. However, it is imperative that the U-20 management (or manager) is part of the senior management. The present set up at U-21 and senior has shown that having different managements creates problems and the ones to suffer are the more talented players. That is why having the one management for both senior and U-20 next year is the best way to manage the talent that is coming through.
But we should not forget that the present U-21 panel have won an Ulster Championship, not to be sneezed at. We have also prepared a big number of young players for senior football, which is another major positive. So hats off to the U-21 management for their efforts.
I could go on about the programme again on Saturday and the fact that Donegal supplied another fake team, but I’m just getting tired and nobody is listening to me!
The ups and downs of BJ
What a couple of days young BJ Banda of Finn Harps has been through. On Friday night he was pressed into action early after an injury to Jonny Bonner when Harps were playing neighbours and rivals, Derry City, in the SSE Airtricity Premier clash at Maginn Park, Buncrana.
BJ made his name when scoring the goal that got Harps into Premier football in 2015. That goal in the dying seconds of the second leg of the promotion play-off against Limerick put the youngster’s name up in lights. However, since that he has had to bide his time.
Then he got the chance on Friday night and he took it so well, scoring the first goal and he was heavily involved in the second, his shot being saved but Michael Funston was on hand to bang home the rebound and give Harps their first ever away victory over their local rivals.
But sport can be cruel, and three nights later at Finn Park, it was a different story. BJ picked up a serious knee injury and had to be taken to hospital. Hopefully, he will be back soon, but he has tasted both sides of what sport can dish out, all within a couple of days.
Hopefully, both our Democrat colleague Packie Mailey and Harry Doherty also recover quickly from a very nasty clash of heads which also saw them hospitalised on Monday night. Doherty came off worse from the clash, but both needed stitches and will be out for some time.
GOAL OF THE MONTH
Watching the soccer highlights programme on RTE on Monday night, hats off to those selected for the short list for Goal of the Month for March. It must have been one of the best ever month for goals, with up to five top class finishes.
The winner was Conan Byrne of St. Patrick’s Athletic, who chipped the Bohemian ‘keeper from inside his own half. One of my favourites was the finish of former Derry City player Patrick McEleney for Dundalk against St. Patrick’s Athletic, a delightful piece of skill.
But overall the standard was very, very high, which is a good reflection on the league.