QUALIFIERS, DONEGAL V LONGFORD

'If the attitude is right, Donegal will win' - Adrian Sweeney

Dungloe man starred when Longford were last in town

Tom Comack

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Tom Comack

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sport@donegaldemocrat.com

Adrian Sweeney

Adrian Sweeney

Adrian Sweeney kicked eight points in the one and only time that Donegal and Longford met in the championship in 2003.
That was in a round one All-Ireland Qualifier in Ballybofey and Donegal eventually emerged the 1-17 to 1-11 winners after a tough struggle in MacCumhaill Park.
There are many similarities with the current Donegal team following their nine point defeat to Tyrone in the the Ulster semi-final.
“We went into that game after losing to Fermanagh in Brewster Park and we were suffering something a hangover and the morale in the squad wasn’t good,” said the 2003 All-Star.
“Just like this year we had gone into the Fermanagh game on a high from the previous year.
“In 2002 we lost the Ulster final to Armagh and had beaten Meath in the Qualifiers and had drawn with Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter final.
“So to lose to Fermanagh was a big blow. It was a terrible game. I think Fermanagh won on a score of something like ten points to six,” said Adrian.
Six days later they had Longford at home in MacCumhaill Park.
“As far as I recall it was a beautiful evening. It was a Saturday evening, there was a small crowd in MacCumhaill Park.
“I remember we lost Kevin Cassidy before the game so between that and coming off the defeat to Fermanagh, confidence was low and we were very subdued before the game.
“We didn’t know much about Longford and from what I recall they were a big physical side. I remember Stephen McDermott had a big game for us in the middle of the field.
“The first half as far as I recall, there was not much between us at half-time.
“They had a number of good forwards and they caused us a fair bit of bother.
“We may have been ahead by a couple of points but there was not much in it.
“We improved in the second half and pulled away in the last quarter. But it was far from easy.”
That win over Longford heralded the start of a great run with wins over Sligo, Tipperary, Down, Galway (after a replay in Castlebar). Donegal ran Armagh, the reigning All-Ireland champions, to four points in the All-Ireland semi-final.
“The most important thing about the Qualifiers is to get a few draws against teams from the lower divisions.
“It takes a couple of games to find your form; certainly that was the case with us in 2003.
“We drew Sligo at home in the second round and then Tipperary so we were back to near ourselves by the time we played Down and we were on a roll by the time we played Galway.
“We eventually lost to Armagh and we ran them to four points despite having Raymond, my brother, sent off which was a blow to us at the time.”
Armagh went on to lose the All-Ireland to Tyrone.
The widely held view in GAA circles is that a home draw in the first round is very important in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
Adrian Sweeney doesn’t disagree but in his opinion it is not necessarily as important as some people suggest.
“A home draw is good but the most important thing is that you go into the game with a positive attitude.
“That will be the most important thing on Saturday evening for Donegal and especially for the young lads in the team.
“It is important that the heads are right and that they don’t be thinking just because it is Longford and they are in Division Three and we have them at home that they will be a soft touch.
“That will not be the case. Longford will be a decent side. They always have a number of good footballers.
“They are coming to Ballybofey with a win under their belts against Louth in the last round and that was away too.
“They are under no pressure because nobody expects them to win and if we do not go into the game in a positive frame of mind we could find ourselves in trouble.
“The boys are going to have to put the Tyrone game out of their minds and concentrate on getting the heads right for Longford. The Tyrone game was just one of those days when nothing went right and there is nothing they can do now about that.
“As Brian McEniff said in his column on Monday, Donegal did not become a bad team overnight. A win on Saturday evening and another decent draw on Monday and the whole championship can open up again for them.
“Nobody thought when we faced Longford in the first round in 2003 that we could end up within four points of beating the reigning All-Ireland champions and reaching the All-Ireland.
“It is all down to a positive attitude and respecting the opposition.”