“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success” - Napoleon Hill.
After many years our aspirations of winning Ulster championships, national leagues or even another opportunity to lift the Sam Maguire have faded a bit. We are now a county who have to start over again; a new bunch of players have to be given time, support and respect in their goal to get us back to the heights of Jim McGuinness’s time.
It will not be easy, it will take time. Maybe more than many realise.It will take investment and patience will be required by all those involved and those who follow.
There are no quick solutions; players have to be given plenty of time to develop their talent, team spirit and their way of playing the game.
For a while there we were spoilt, exceptional players committed their lives to the betterment of Donegal football; they lived it every day. It was who and what they were; it defined them as men.
Last Sunday’s result in Letterkenny against Kerry was not what we might have wanted but it was expected. The introduction of so many young lads to the team is never easy but especially against a team like Kerry. To be fair to Kerry they started with a couple of new boys as well. Eamonn Fitzmaurice confirmed after the game that Kerry had a bit of training done and were better conditioned for the league this year. Rory Gallagher had suggested that while playing with a new group of players that they needed to change their style of play. Over the last few seasons they have depended greatly on Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh coming from deep to get them on the scoreboard; they were not scoring enough and against the good teams they needed to be more offensive.
It’s hard to argue with that. We seem to be trying to develop a running game at pace, players running from the back at different angles taking the ball at speed and breaking the tackle of the defender; hopefully then opening up the scoring opportunity.
Sounds good and we are blessed with players who can cover the ground at great pace but if we commit too many players to attack and the move breaks down will we not be open at the back. There has to be a happy medium. While I agree we need to get more firepower from different areas of the field we have to have a defensive strategy that does not leave us open at the back.
Against Kerry we started probably with one recognised man marker, Paddy McGrath. If Neil McGee had started it would have been two; the rest of the defence are attack minded; there first thought is to go forward. Even Caolan Ward, who was very impressive, ventured forward at every opportunity. The loss of McGee was a major blow. His experience in the back line might not have left us as open as we were. Time after time the Kerry half-backs came forward without, at times, being put under any pressure and that put huge strain on our defence.
We could look at the positives. We scored one goal and 17 points, good stats. We played with a lot of inexperienced lads and to be fair they were never too fazed about the opposition. But if we put on the realistic hat, Kerry fisted the ball over the bar on three occasions that on a championship day in the middle of summer they would have went for goals.
Fitzmaurice made a number of changes with 20 minutes to go and Kerry seemed to take their foot off the throttle. We were dominated in the middle of the field with David Moran having a field day. We struggled with the Kerry kick-out; even when we did put pressure on them they always managed to free someone up to take the ball out of defence. At the other end we seemed to struggle with our own kick-out strategy with Kerry dominating possession.
It wasn’t all bad. As I said Caolan Ward played well and is well within his comfort zone at this level. Ciaran Thompson put in a fine shift and, like Ward, is more than capable of playing at this level. Marty O’Reilly as usual gave us all running from the back and making openings for others. Michael Murphy, after a slow start, gave his usual performance and the fact we had to take him to the middle of the field to combat Moran weakened us in the forward line.
One aspect of the Kerry game that stood out for me was their ability to move the ball quickly and accurately with the boot. Their first option was to kick the ball especially into Geaney and James O’Donoghue, who contributed 2-7 to the Kerry total. They made space on the wings and at every opportunity kicked the ball for the forwards to run onto, and support was off their shoulder to go at the Donegal defence. Moving the ball that quickly doesn’t give you the opportunity to get bodies behind the ball and leaves you open to concede goals.
Rory Gallagher will prepare for Roscommon next Sunday knowing that this could be our best chance to get two points on the board. Tyrone were too strong for the Connacht men in their opening encounter in Omagh so the pressure will be on them, especially at home. Patience will be the key word in the opening rounds of the national league, indeed maybe for the year ahead. This is not going to be sorted overnight and it’s where we are at right now. It’s no one’s fault and we have to deal with it and move forward.
Finally, I would like wish Frankie Tom Gallagher all the best and hope to see him back in the hills fairly soon.