BREAKING BALL: Retaining Sam proves a huge ask

Manus Boyle


Manus Boyle

BREAKING BALL: Retaining Sam proves a huge ask
It’s not easy to try and reflect on what happened last Sunday when we let our All-Ireland championship slip.

It’s not easy to try and reflect on what happened last Sunday when we let our All-Ireland championship slip.

Last year Donegal could do no wrong, players played out of their skins, the team management got their match day tactics right every time and we ended up with the Anglo Celt and Sam Maguire.

So what happened on Sunday against Mayo?

It would be easy and be critical of both the players and the management but that’s simply a cheap shot.

Jim McGuinness and the rest of the management team would have done very little different than to last year.

Why would you change a winning formula?

At the start of the year I suggested that if we where to retain Sam Maguire it would be down to a number of issues.

I say issues, not excuses but injuries always play a major factor in any team’s success - whether you are Donegal or Manchester United, it doesn’t matter.

If your best and most influential players get injured you are in bother.

Regardless of how good a panel you think you have, you can’t replace the players that carry the team over the line time after time.

I know there many other aspects that can go wrong. The other deciding factor in any team’s success is hunger - that desire to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Whether it’s training in the morning and again that evening, whether it’s travelling from Dublin or Galway to training in Ballybofey or whether it’s going to the gym or going out on the road to put in the hard miles.

Or even if it’s just sitting in at night when your friends are out having a good time.

Most, if not all, of the Donegal lads have ticked all those boxes in the last number of years and when they picked up their All Ireland medals last Christmas that very same hunger that got them there got diluted a bit.

Whether the players or the manager realise it or not, you never have that same edge. The telltale signs have been there all year.

In the Allianz League our performances were all over the place.

We played alright against Tyrone in the first round but on a more critical analysis of the game, we got the rub of the green with the timing of both goals as Tyrone where on top at that time.

Down had enough chances to give us a run for our money but they didn’t believe that they could beat us and but for the finishing of Colm McFadden, we could have fallen

The cracks were showing but to be fair you don’t peak for May or June and you always felt that they could turn it around.

The Ulster final showed us what we could come to expect if we were to progress in the championship.

Monaghan showed the same hunger and desire that we had shown in 2011 and 2012.

We did enough to get over Laois and showed signs that hunger might be coming back but it was more that the players’ pride was hurt.

They felt they let themselves down in the Ulster final and raised there game for Carrick-on-Shannon.

If I’m totally honest I would have said it was more in hope than expectation that I approached the game on Sunday.

I watched the Donegal lads warm up and they looked no different than that of 2012.

I looked across at the Mayo panel going through their paces and they looked very relaxed and up for the game.

But deep down in their minds they know if they ever had a better chance to take Donegal this was it.

Only Kerry, in 2007, have retained Sam Maguire since 1990 and James Horan would have been well clued in on how Donegal had played in all their games to date this year.

Horan also changed a number of things that he learned from playing us last year.

He put Keith Higgins, probably one of his best defenders, at half-forward to watch the runs of Anthony Thompson, Frank McGylnn and Mark McHugh.

He played Donal Vaughan at centre-back knowing that neither Mark or Ryan McHugh would be marking him.

While Vaughan may be a loose enough defender he has shown that given a bit of space he can play a bit and was always good for a score.

On Sunday he scored the second and set up the third - some contribution from a No 6. Mayo were well worth their victory.

What we have become used to watching Donegal do to other teams of late; the tables have been turned in the last three weeks.

The Mayo forwards, who never got a chance to get going last September, got off to a great start and tore us open in the first 35 minutes.

The game was over before half-time and it didn’t look great after the fourth goal went in but to be fair Donegal never stopped.

They kept trying and while Croke Park did empty with about 10 or 15 minutes to go, it was more of the Kerry and Cavan supporters leaving than the Donegal supporters deserting their team.

Time will pass and McGuinness along with the rest of the management team will assess their situation, likewise some of the older players will consider what is ahead of them.

In the words of Kevin Ngo, the owner of “It is during our failures that we discover our true desire for success.”