One that got away
The small things. Not being able to hold a lead on three occasions in the final quarter. It was not Donegal of the recent past as we knew it. While we congratulate Tyrone on winning a first Ulster title in six years, Sunday’s game - just like a year ago - will go down as one that got away.
The Donegal that we knew would have kept Tyrone at bay, but in the end we paid for our conservatism when we owned the ball for long periods of the second half but lacked the desire to transfer the possession in our favour on the scoreboard.
We had just two wides in the second half, one of them Michael Murphy’s late effort from 50m. Other than that we didn’t have a shot at the target. Neither did we try to find a player inside the 20m line, other than a great pass from Christy Toye as the game entered added time. By that stage Patrick McBrearty had been withdrawn and replaced by Colm McFadden. I wonder what were the thoughts of McBrearty when he saw a long diagonal pass being made into an area where he had laboured for 74 minutes. In that time he got one pass in each half, scoring a point off his only second half possession inside the Tyrone 20m line. Madness.
The Donegal plan while in possession just wasn’t up to scratch. It was based on not losing the game, rather than winning it. In the end it cost them.
There were other mitigating circumstances, not least losing Frank McGlynn to a late hit that wasn’t even punished with a free. Indeed, with the turnover Tyrone got back on terms with one of Sean Cavanagh’s three points.
It was one of three vital moments in the second half which decided the game. The other two involved Ciaran Gillespie and Colm McFadden, the recipients of good passes, but when they failed to secure possession at the first attempt, referee David Coldrick, was reluctant to give frees.
To be fair to the Meath official, he was lenient on Donegal tackles at the other end as well, but I felt the challenge on McGlynn was a lunge and not only deserved a free, it was a yellow card as it bordered on dangerous. Indeed it resulted in the influential Glenfin man having to leave the field, although one felt he was surprised to be called ashore.
The other big talking point from the game was the use of the Donegal bench by the management. For the third time in their four championship games this year, a player who was replaced was reintroduced, this time around Anthony Thompson.
Thompson was on the bench for around 12 minutes when brought back on.
Last time out in Breffni Park, Martin McElhinney was called ashore but was back on in 17 minutes.
There was some logic to this tactic when Tyrone used it with Peter Canavan in an All-Ireland final, so important was Canavan to the team plan. But surely on Sunday last, given the gruelling conditions in the baking sun, young and fresh legs were needed in the final quarter.
The optics of reintroducing players who have been substituted just doesn’t look right. It must act as a boost for the opposition, who see the player coming back on. It also sends out a message to the rest of the unused substitutes which must be difficult to understand.
Sunday was a missed opportunity which would have rightly given a number of the Donegal panel a fourth Ulster senior championship medal.
Now they have to lift themselves for a tilt with Cork on Saturday week. They will be happy that the game is fixed for Croke Park, because it is a stage these talented players deserve. It could also be a great opportunity to give some of our young blood a chance. We have seen the introduction of the likes of Ciaran Gillespie and Eoin McHugh. Has the time come for Eoghan Ban Gallagher to be given more than token time? Stephen McBrearty wasn’t in the 26 on Sunday last, which elicited some surprise. Ciaran Thompson, Michael Carroll . . . I could go on.
I heard recently that Bundoran’s Paul Brennan was brought in for one of the in-house games. He must come into the reckoning next year.
While all is not lost this year, one feels that the best path for Donegal (winning the Ulster final) has been taken from them. Now they must defeat Cork . . . probably followed by Dublin, Kerry and Mayo or Tyrone in the All-Ireland final! And that after four tough games against Fermanagh, Monaghan (twice) and Tyrone.
Imagine Dublin or Kerry having to tread that path every year.
Before leaving the senior final, a word on black cards. After Sunday has the time come to disband them! The decision to give Cathal McShane black for putting his hand up to protect himself was ludicrous. No wonder he had a bemused look.
If this rule is not to be dropped, then it has to be amended and the wording around tripping must come be more defined.
The success of the Donegal minors in taking the Fr. Murray Cup back to the Diamond, Donegal Town on Sunday evening eased the pain of the senior defeat a little. Thank goodness for Niall O’Donnell, who turned the game in Donegal’s favour with a masterful display.
He had two great allies in Peadar Mogan, a real workhorse who cut out an awful lot of Derry attacks and was still able to bomb forward and made a great contribution up front.
The other great performance came from Aidan McLaughlin, a powerhouse half-back, who kept driving forward and keeping Donegal on the front foot.
It was a good result but not the performance that the Donegal management would have been looking for. But it was a final and with just 30 minute halves, it can sometimes pass players by. The goals came for Donegal at the right time and they can push on from this. They are getting the opportunity to play their quarter-final in Croke Park, which should act as a spur. Defeat Cork and they will be back at headquarters for an All-Ireland semi-final on the last Sunday in August.
SP will be hoping that the sun keeps shining. Good weather for the shorts and the sunglasses. John Maughan, eat your heart out!
Before leaving the minor final, I have to mention the Derry minor goalkeeper Ben McKinless. His kick-outs were one of the highlights of the game for me. Whether it was hitting it long to a player running onto it near the sideline or drilling it low outside the 45m, he was flawless. One of the best displays I have ever seen!
I noticed in his column in the Irish Times on Tuesday that former Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, watched the Ulster final on a BBC monitor at Troon, where he was a guest of Paul McGinley at the Open.
Whatever about the Ulster final, he got to witness one of the true sporting spectacles of recent time. The tussle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson over the final day 18 holes was one of the greatest ever witnessed. Two real sports stars, humble, yet able to match each other, shot by shot.
In the end the Swede prevailed with an Open record score and a course equalling 63 in the final round. It was his first Major success and his victory gave sport a much needed boost in these days of drug-infested times.