When did winning not become enough? Since when did everyone become so engrossed in performance and quality that just winning was not enough?
Donegal played Longford last weekend in the Qualifiers. They won. Yes, it was a poor game with lots of errors by both sides; loads of poor passing and some poor shooting choices. There were over 30 wides and I doubt anyone would suggest that any of the players on both sides played anywhere near what they are capable off.
From a Longford perspective they travelled to Ballybofey with nothing to lose. They could have easily been a banana skin for a Donegal side who would have been on a low after the performance against Tyrone a couple of weeks ago. The Donegal players have worked extremely hard since last October and their main focus has always been to be as successful as they can. Managers and players, regardless of what sport or team they play for, are never that interested in how the job is done but just getting it done.
Winning is what it is all about at the highest level of sport. Gaelic games is no different. But in the last few years there seems to be a huge emphasis on performance. Because of the emphasis placed on winning, a lot of the skills of the game have suffered. Most managers now set their teams out with a specific game plan; they pick a certain type of player who fits that game plan and they will usually condition their training regime around that game plan.
Teams work on kick-outs and set plays from certain areas of the field. They will work on this for hours on end. Everything, it seems, must be rehearsed and practiced. It’s a bit like reading a script, and you usually find that most, if not all the teams, are playing a similar way. That’s why games have become extremely sterile. Once one side gets the ball the other gets into their defensive system and it’s up to the attacking side to break them down. The ball often will go sideways and backwards and until a bit of space is found the attacking side is reluctant to take a chance.
It’s hard to watch at times but all games evolve and this is the way it’s been played in this era. It’s only a matter of opinion that the game was better 20 years ago but there certainly was not the same fear of losing as there is now. It was more a determination to win rather than being afraid of getting beaten.
In the case of Donegal, their form has dropped from the National League. They were well beaten by Tyrone and it takes time to get over a defeat like that, but their main aim now is to go as far as possible in the Qualifiers with the hope that maybe they will play themselves into a bit of form and you never know what could happen, regardless of how they play.
Much has been made that the team is struggling for confidence at the minute. That’s maybe one reason but it has to be more than that. Longford were fortunate to stay in Division Three of the National League this year and they still could come to Ballybofey and with a simple game plan they could cause Donegal enough problems. Considering that it was level when Longford had probably one of their better players sent off for what looked like a more accidental foul than anything else, it could have been a lot more difficult for Donegal.
So, if we are to progress do we need to change the way we play the game? We are slow to move the ball from defence to attack; a lot of players seem to carry the ball instead of kicking it long; players are reluctant to have a go even when they are in space and with most teams at the same level of fitness you most certainly need a plan B when plan A is not working.
Away to Meath will bring a different challenge. We know Donegal will have to improve. Meath are another county with a great GAA tradition that have struggled of late. They have not been able to find an answer to the dominance of Dublin in Leinster and the fact that Donegal will go to Navan as favourites would tell you a lot of where Meath football is at the minute.
They will relish the visit of Donegal to their backyard, knowing that Donegal are struggling for form at the minute. Meath will flourish with the tag of underdogs. If Donegal don’t get on top of them early on they could start to believe that there is a bit of hope. Their supporters will be out in force with even the slightest sniff of success against a team that are considered to be, at the very least, a top six side so all in all, not an easy game.
How we play will not matter if we go into the draw next Monday morning. This is the time of year that winning is everything.