Breaking Ball - Expectations for U-21s were probably too high
Donegal went into last week’s U-21 final against Cavan as slight favourites. Why? Because they had a number of senior players in their squad and had two very capable and successful people looking after them. Rory Gallagher and Maxi Curran had a good squad of players; they played a Fermanagh team in the first round who a number of weeks before the first round could hardly conjure up enough players to take part in a challenge game; they had to travel to Cavan a week later to play Armagh, again another Wednesday night. Donegal were too strong with Patrick McBrearty hitting eight points but Armagh haven’t won a minor title since 2009 so they were coming more in hope than expectation.
Cavan, on the other hand, won the Ulster minor championship in 2011 so this was their year. Three years on they have grown stronger and added a couple of newcomers into their squad. They have become naturally stronger. Now it doesn’t always happen that way but to be fair to the Cavan county board they have invested heavily in both their underage squads and their senior squad and that’s one of the main reasons they have four in-a-row U-21 Ulster titles.
On the night both teams didn’t play to their potential but that’s what happens in finals. It’s always the team that gets that break of the ball that comse out on top in the end. It was Cavan’s year.
I don’t want to be critical of this year’s county board just yet. To be fair they have got their act together a bit in the way they have started to look after the underage teams. Before Christmas this year the minor players had to find their own way to training. However, my good buddy Mr. Bonner might have had a word or two and now things seem to be going in the right direction which is only right. It shouldn’t matter who is in charge of any county team, they should be backed in the same manner as our seniors.
I have no doubt either that Rory Gallagher or Maxi Curran would have stopped at nothing to make sure that their players got what they needed as they would have felt that they had a reasonable chance of success this year.
Again I go back to the same old thing; just because a good group of players comes along and we decide to back them but we have to put in place a more professional attitude when it comes to financing our underage teams or else we will find our senior squad devoid of the talent it requires to compete at the top level.
It’s hard to know what to say about the U-21 championship. Is it fair to ask players to travel from their colleges all over the country to play a championship match on a Wednesday night? Do we think it’s fair to treat players and supporters in this manner and was it fair that Donegal supporters had to travel to Armagh? For some in the county it was a journey of over two and a half hours, while the Cavan supporters had a short trip. I know it wasn’t the Cavan county board who made the fixture but if the game was fixed for Celtic Park in Derry would the Cavan county board have had something to say about it.
Last Sunday’s National League Division One semi-finals certainly threw down a marker for the rest of the teams that have visions of being involved come September this year.
In the first game Derry, who had Fergal Doherty sent off mid-way through the first half, were still too strong for a Mayo team who at one point in the second half were three points to the good. But Derry kept their cool, worked the ball into scoring positions and looked very composed.
Under Brian McIver, Derry are a different team than that of a few years back. They are fitter, hungrier and above all better disciplined. Mark Lynch, Chrissie McKaigue, Sean Leo McGoldrick and Cailean O’Boyle were very impressive and will certainly give Jim McGuinness and his management team plenty to think about.
But even Derry will have their hands full when it comes to the National League final against Dublin. Their game with Cork was certainly a game of two halves. Cork dominated the first one and were so far ahead that you just wondered what was going on with the Dubs. Jim Gavin, if he has done one thing in this league campaign, he has tried out a lot of players. He has the squad to do that. This has done two things; he has been able to test the younger lads against the best sides in the country and he has been able to rest many of the players who landed them Sam last year.
Those players are making their way back. Bernard Brogan has only played a handful of minutes in this year’s campaign but he looked sharp when he came on. Eoghan O’Gara gave them a strong physical strength on the edge of the square but as a unit when they get going they are hard to stop; power, skilful players and Croke Park is like a second home to them and they are the standard now that everyone has to get to.
While the two games were great to watch some of the decisions taken by both match officials were a bit confusing. It’s hard to know now what deserves to be just a tick; what’s a yellow or black card and if it’s confusing now what’s going to happen when the championship starts.
Because after all that is the one that matters.