The National Football League finals take place in Croke Park this Sunday in all four divisions. The two that are of interest to Donegal are the Division 1 and Division 2 contests where Dublin play Kerry and Tyrone play Cavan respectively.
We know what Dublin and Kerry are about but we haven’t really seen anything of Cavan or Tyrone this year yet. Since both are Ulster teams it will be interesting to see their current in respect of the upcoming Ulster championship. We will also be able to compare the standard of this game to the Division 1 game which takes place immediately after.
There are great noises coming out of Cavan about their upcoming youthful team. Tyrone will obviously be trying to build on their great run in the championship last season. The gospel of football according to Pat Spillane rates Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone as the only “serious contenders for the All-Ireland title this year. I agree with his statement about Kerry and Dublin. Even people with only a mild interest in Gaelic football can come to that conclusion. How he brings Tyrone and Mayo into this equation is perhaps a bit questionable.
Like Spillane we base our current judgement on current form. If that is so, would Fermanagh not also be in with a chance. Tyrone drew with Fermanagh in their last league outing. Surely Roscommon must also come into the reckoning because they beat Kerry and a host of other Division teams in their league campaign. Donegal are ranked outsiders with the rest of the pack according to Spillane. In other words, we are “no hopers”.
So what are Donegal’s chances? All the stats seem to be against us; five consecutive defeats in the league, a hammering against Dublin in the league semi-final and a hammering from the national media.
The last point can be dealt with easily enough. Since Jim McGuinness employed tactics unfamiliar to the game, we have been the victim of countless attacks because of its defensive nature. It is obvious that all teams now play similar styles of football including Dublin and even Kerry.
Obviously we will never be forgiven for winning the All-Ireland title in 2012. Spillane gave McGuinness the ‘Manager of the Millennium award. Talk about running with the hare and chasing with the hound!
To be honest, what the national media think or believe never enter a team’s dressing room. Losing to Dublin by ten points in the National League semi-final a few weeks ago is disconcerting. No team wants to be beaten by such a margin. In the run up to this game Donegal had to look ahead having already secured Division 1 status for next season.
Winning a league title was never a priority. The Ulster championship remained a focus for Rory Gallagher and his team. He said so himself. Different team formations and different team personnel have been used at the back end of our league campaign. The addition of fresh talent to the squad has been a positive step. My gut feeling is that Rory Gallagher will look to his experienced players when the championship does kick off for Donegal.
We are the last team out which gives us a chance to view the opposition. The Ulster championship draw also favours Donegal this season. This year may well be the last year for some of our older players which is a great motivating factor in itself. They will want to give it one last push.
Our five consecutive defeats consisted of only one which would give cause for concern. Dublin will stroll through Leinster and it will be August before they get any type of serious challenge. Our defeat will only serve to inspire our players. Now they know what has to be done in order to reach the standard that Dublin is at. We lost the other four league games only marginally.
To be written off by pundits and the GAA fraternity alike is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it gives our team breathing space and the pressure is less intense. It is great to be able to prepare without the glare of the spotlight. Since 2012 this team has had constant attention from all and sundry. We almost won the All-Ireland title again in 2014. As I often state, we are spoiled in Donegal with the success of this current group of players.
The trials of Ulster Championship football have no equal in other provinces. Our expectations have suddenly dipped within a few weeks. History tells us that Donegal are most potent when our backs are to the wall. Don’t give up our boys.
Always, keep the faith!x