Donegal are continuing to defy the unfair odds

Donegal are continuing to defy the unfair odds
The GAA are taking on the Ryanair motto - the quick turnaround to boost their profits.

The GAA are taking on the Ryanair motto - the quick turnaround to boost their profits.

Donegal were tested to the limit on Saturday last against Galway and have seven days to get ready to face a team that has played only two competitive games since April 5th.

Yes, as Thomas McBrearty texted on Sunday evening, Mayo played Donegal in the final league game in Castlebar on Sunday, 5th April and since then - four months later - they have played only two games (just one of them competitive).

Contrast that to Donegal, who played a league semi-final and five ultra competitive championship games.

The ‘Ryanair’ turnaround means that Donegal are severely disadvantaged as they prepare for their second trip to Croke Park on Saturday next to face the Connacht champions in the All-Ireland quarter-final and it is no surprise that they are 11/8 underdogs with Mayo favourites at 8/11.

When they won their All-Ireland title in 2012 Donegal played seven games in total while in the other years they never played more than six.

On Saturday last Donegal produced some of their best football in the second half to dispose of Galway. The 2-8 they posted in that half was as good as anything produced in the last four years which underlines the resilience and character of this team.

Donegal supporters should be extremely proud of their Donegal heroes. For the fifth year in-a-row they are playing championship football at the top table in August. Their performance on Saturday last against the backdrop of losing the Ulster final by a point, ranks among their best.

The present system which allows one county arrive at the quarter-final stage having played two games and others having played five just doesn’t seem fair.

I’m not one for dismantling the provincial championships, but the entire structure needs to be examined. Even in Ulster, is there a case that teams that have earned a top ranking should be excluded from the preliminary round draw?

The plan put forward by Jim McGuinness earlier this year of a two-tier championship from provincial stage onwards with league placings taken into account also has merit.

There needs to be a conversation around the entire championship make-up to see if the anomalies that are there at present - mismatches and lack of a level playing field as regards the number of games being played by different counties - can be addressed. Teams should be playing the same number of games as they approach the business end of the championship.

Rory Gallagher and Donegal were dealt a difficult hand in 2015. The loss at the Ulster final stage, given the tough road travelled, just added to their difficulties.

But on Saturday last they gave their followers a half of football that was a joy to watch. Young and old flourished and when you get two thirds of your team performing at the highest level, then anything is possible.

I didn’t see the final stats but Neil Gallagher must have handled the ball well over 40 times; Colm McFadden was like a youngster as he cut swathes through the Galway defence and his passing was top notch; Ryan McHugh gets a new lease of life in Croke Park and his goal was a thing of beauty; Michael Murphy set the tone with his ‘Aussie style’ leap while Odhrán MacNiallais was just class with his high fetching and brilliant points.

Martin McElhinney and Leo McLoone played a huge part in Donegal’s surge while Christy Toye got the greatest cheer of the day when brought in and he chipped in with a goal.

The experience gained by Hugh McFadden and Eamonn Doherty will be helpful to the future of the county while all followers will be hoping that injuries to Patrick McBrearty, Eamon McGee and Karl Lacey are cleared up by next weekend.

It has been another great year for Donegal GAA thanks to this magnificent bunch of players, but one downside is this rumour mill which seems to attach itself to the county week by week.

Brendan Devenney instigated one of these rumours prior to Saturday’s game saying that Michael Murphy would not start against Galway. Some supporters just love getting wind of bad news and presenting it as fact. Brendan should be more careful with his comments, especially on the national stage where everything is picked up and copied like a gorse fire. By early Saturday every national media source was confirming what Brendan said as fact.

I’ve been told that in and around the Croke Park hotel on Saturday, there was a rumour that two of the Donegal panel had left the bus in Carrickmacross because of a row in the camp!

The most persistent rumour each week for the past four weeks has been that two Donegal players were about to leave the panel. This rumour was being presented as gospel two weeks ago.

Donegal supporters need to be a bit more circumspect when dealing with this misinformation. It probably doesn’t affect the team, but it is an issue that seems to be part and parcel of the county team.

For Rory Gallagher and his management team, there isn’t much they can do with the team this week physically. It is a matter of getting as much rest as possible. Hopefully, the injuries will have cleared up and no others are reported.

For Saturday next the task for Donegal will be to get the intensity to the right level for as much of the 70+ minutes as possible. It will be impossible to have the high levels for the full match. There will be a time for containing and a time for surges and if they can get both right then they will be happy. All management teams now talk about performance and Donegal know that they will need that on Saturday.

Donegal supporters can play their part too. Mayo will have huge numbers in Croke Park because they only have had two outings in four months. They will make plenty of noise, but it is up to Donegal to match them and out-shout them.

This group of Donegal heroes deserve that.

Like the ‘Ryanair motto’ and the ‘quick turnaround’ a noisy and positive support from Donegal supporters on Saturday ‘could get them there’!