Donegal’s win away to Cavan on Saturday night has more or less secured their Division One status for 2017. Before a ball was kicked this year, knowing a lot of new players had to be integrated into the side, it would have been easy to believe that we could have found ourselves in a dogfight but to be fair to Rory Gallagher and his management team they have assembled a great group who have shown the qualities and commitment so far this year to climb the ladder once again.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be that easy. This will be a long tough road but it is going in the right direction. Both Cavan and Roscommon are not on the same level as the other sides in Division One. They have struggled and are near certain to be relegated to Division Two.
Donegal have, since the Kerry game, gone back to playing a more defensive game, as they did under Jim. As a group, they funnel back into a defensive shape when they concede possession. Indeed, there isn’t a team in the land that don’t play in a similar fashion. It has made them a lot tighter in defence and has lessened the chance of conceding goals. At the same time, with the pace of the younger lads, they can break at great speed knowing that the likes of Murphy, McGlynn, McGee and Paddy McGrath are there to back them up.
From the outside looking in there seems to be a great blend of youth and experience and everybody seems to be working for the group. The performances of Caolan Ward and Eoghan Ban Gallagher in defence, Jason Mc Gee in midfield and Ciaran Thompson have been exemplary so far this year. Ward has shown great tenacity and confidence coming out from defence. Eoghan Ban, like Ward, has great pace and drives hard on the opposition’s goal at every opportunity.
Jason McGee, for a teenager, has been excellent and looks at ease at senior level. The injury against Cavan, hopefully, will not keep him out for too long and not restrict his season.
I watched Ciaran Thompson for the last few years grow into a very accomplished performer; rarely is he rushed and like McGee, looks totally at ease at senior level. His ability to kick points from distance will help break down the blanket defences that may come our way in the summer ahead.
Tyrone are next up in the National League and it will give us another opportunity to see how equipped we are as Tyrone are much further along in their development than the likes of Cavan and Roscommon.
Before that the U-21 side get their Ulster championship campaign under way against Tyrone. Both sides are seen as the top two of the province, so it’s a huge game; the loss of Jason McGee will be a huge hit for Declan Bonner’s men but they have plenty of cover with the likes of Michael Langan, Michael Carroll, Ciaran Gillespie and Stephen McBrearty.
Declan will be hoping his side can hit the ground running and give Tyrone very little opportunity to get the home crowd behind them. There will be a bit of bite to this game because of the history of the last few years. Discipline will be vital as well as having everyone playing at their best. This group of lads were unlucky as minors not to bring back All-Ireland success. Hopefully, they will have learned from that disappointment and with the experience gained from many of them playing senior football it will be enough to see them through.
This time twelve months ago we were enthralled by the heroics of Leicester City. They did the unthinkable and won the Premiership. They did not have the riches or the big international squads as did the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, the Manchester duo of City and United, none of that. Their squad wasn’t littered with household names that every young lad that follows soccer could roll off their tongues at the drop of a hat. Their manager was Claudio Ranieri, a much travelled Italian, who had very little success in a long career. All through last season’s campaign his interviews were light hearted; he had his team playing out of their skins. They were like men possessed. At no time throughout the season did they throw in the towel in any game. They played the big boys and came out on top and with ten or eleven games to go the experts still believed they would crack. They didn’t, and Ranieri brought to Leicester what was way beyond their wildest dreams.
Nine months later they sack him. This year was not the Cinderella story. They have struggled badly, rumours of player unrest and a dressing room split has led to the owners relieving him of his duties. Many of the retired players took to social media to voice their outrage. They questioned the loyalty of the owners, his backroom staff and the players.
It’s easy to put the blame on one man. It’s easy to pay off one man’s contract without too much upheaval but it places soccer and sport and the way it is perceived in a very poor light. Loyalty is the cornerstone of every successful dressing room. It’s amazing how quickly it disappears.