It’s not often the case that most of the television pundits call the outcome of games. Last weekend nearly everyone of them barring a Mr. Spillane got it right.
Now to be fair the other three games would have been easier to call than the Donegal-Kerry game but most of them suspected what ever Donegal person hoped.
Kerry were being talked up after beating a much travelled and tired looking Tyrone side in their backyard; the Tyrone team of five to ten years ago would never have been turned over as easy but with that win it was suggested that Kerry were back.
Last Sunday eleven of last year’s All-Ireland final team started against Donegal; it could be said that Kerry handed Dublin last year’s title because with ten minutes to go Dublin where gone but some poor passing by Kerry players allowed the Dubs back into the game and there was a feeling in GAA circles that this Kerry side had unfinished business.
Donegal put an end to that last Sunday in what we have become to expect of a team that are growing in stature every day they take the field. Their physical strength, conditioning and the intensity that they play the game with has now become their trademark. They make teams work extremely hard to not only take a score but just keep possession of the ball.
In the past Donegal teams always played with heart and pride, both the good sides and the bad and I never saw a player not going out without giving his best. Whether they had a good game or not they went out with the intention of giving their all.
This team is no different but they have a belief that it is their destiny to win another All-Ireland title and whatever sacrifices that are needed to get that goal, they are prepared to put their body on the line to achieve it.
It also helps when you have a manager that believes in the same thing and has etched his team ethic on this present group of players.
While it’s always the case where one or two players will have outstanding games and they usually will get all the headlines the following day, last Sunday’s game was no different. Paul Durcan was again exceptional in goals, coming off his line to support his full-back line with the threat of Kieran Donaghy and his ability to find his own player from kick outs has become part and parcel of the way Donegal play.
Colm McFadden, at the other end, was again at his best, finding the target at his ease. Rory Kavanagh gave his usual 70 minutes and it amazes me at how much ground he covers every game. Paddy McGrath at corner back just hounded Darran O’Sullivan when he came on and gave a super display of how a man marker can keep a forward out of the game and stay within the rules of the game.
Karl Lacey was back to his very best and his run and score in injury time settled a lot of nerves and brought us over the line. Paddy McBrearty was excellent throughout and his collision with Thompson in the first half didn’t seem to bother either of them. Mark Mc Hugh gave another polished performance in the sweeper role.
Neil Gallaghe’rs introduction at half-time was a great boost in the midfield sector where we struggled a bit in the first half and he showed no ill affects of his long lay off and with a couple of weeks training under his belt his role will be huge when we play Cork.
As I said last week last year we seemed to talk about the same players playing well in every game last year. This year someone new comes along every week and gives us a little reminder of what they have to offer.
In the Ulster final it was Declan Walsh of Malin who put in a brilliant 70 minutes. Leo McLoone did it last weekend. From the very start he threw himself into every tackle and worked as hard as I ever seen him and his score to put us two ahead on about 40 minutes after Kerry had come within a point was a brilliant effort was probably the best score of the game.
Like the Ulster final Jim used the bench well and it’s something that is part of every team’s game plan when they go to Croke Park.
There was a number of things that I would take out of the four quarter-finals. The teams that came in through the back door struggled in the last 20 minutes of each game with the fresher legs of the provincial winners all coming good in the end.
Also four referees who we were told were the top in the class this year were all guilty of taking different views of what was or wasn’t a foul. This needs to be addressed but can only be done if there is a willingness for change by all parties.