I have come to the conclusion that there is not one intercounty manager who takes the League seriously. In the last couple of weeks I have read and listened to managers on radio and television tell us all the same story; it’s all about championship. We will be all judged on how we do in the summer.
I have a question I would love someone to answer. If the league is not worth winning, why are we training for it? Why are we calling off club games for it and why do we need to be preparing for a competition that we have no thought or desire of winning? Am I missing something?
Earlier in the group stages of the league we were in the faces of Kerry and Dublin in two meaningless league matches; we got players sent off; we got fined five grand; we got involved in all sorts of bullshit stuff. For what? Meaningless league matches.
After last Sunday’s fifth defeat in-a-row, everyone was happy with our league campaign. We introduced a few new faces; we kept our division one status and well Dublin were too good for us on the day. In fact after reading the interviews from the four managers who were involved on Sunday, they must all have the same scriptwriter.
At least we won’t have to look at that again next year as there will be no league semi-finals next year.
Looking on the bright side there was a number of positives to take from last Sunday’s game. The two McGees played well considering the lack of cover in front of them. Paddy McBrearty kicked a number of good scores and looked sharp; his brother Stephen looks as comfortable on the ball as any seasoned player and will be a valuable player for the county in the years ahead. Young Kieran Gillespie didn’t look out of place and like the other young lads that have played during the league will have gained valuable experience.
Outside of that there is very little we could take from the game. We looked tired, at times uninterested and we never got further than into second gear. I have no doubt that the players and the management went out to do their best but something was certainly missing.
I would also have to suggest that Dublin didn’t get out of second gear either and were very impressive even at a stroll. There will, however, be questions over Donegal for the summer ahead. No one will look at the game last Sunday and judge Donegal on that performance but the league campaign, if I am totally up front, was not good. Yes, I said it myself, that championship is the only thing that matters but in order to get there you have to have a half decent league. In the last few championships our main stumbling block has been Monaghan. They have been a team we have found very hard to beat; they love a brawl and at times they suck us into that type of game, but there are another few teams in the mix this year that could be considered a real threat. Tyrone and Cavan have gained promotion from division two this year. Both have had considerable success at U-21 this last few years and will fancy a crack at both ourselves and Monaghan who have dominated the Ulster championship for the last five years.
So we will have to up our game. What was noticeable about many of the league games was there was no clear way of playing. In some games we were ultra-defensive and in others it was all out attack with very little cover at the back. To be fair to the management maybe they wanted to look at different scenarios that would suit the players we have but we go into the championship without a set pattern. Again we have eight weeks to work on it and we would expect that while the winners of Fermanagh and Antrim will make a real fight of it we should, in all honesty, have enough to get over that without over extending ourselves. So when we play one of the stronger sides will we know what our best plan of action might be? Will we know our best 15 or 20 players.
I understand totally the concept of trying things out in the league but I also understand the value of winning games; as I have said before it’s a habit; a very good one and one that gets you over the line days you are not at your best. You cannot turn it on like a switch and once you lose it, it can take forever to get it back.
As many politicians and commentators say we are where we are and we just have to get on with it. Nothing will be gained by undermining the players or the management; after all we all want the same thing but it would be wrong to gloss it over by not talking or discussing the last four or five performances.
As a county we have become used to a bit of success. Jim started the ball rolling a few years ago and we don’t want it to stop but we have to accept that other counties will get their time. They will raise their standards and we will have to work harder to get back on top.
One thing is certain, no Ulster championship was ever won without a fight or two. I doubt if this one will be any different.