Big week ahead for Donegal with two games against Tyrone

THE SPORTING DIARY with Sports Ed Peter Campbell

Big week ahead for Donegal with two games against Tyrone

Donegal riding high

When it comes down to it, sport is all about winning. Everybody talks about the taking part, and that is true at a certain level. But at the serious level, winning is the only game in town.

Just look at the scenes at the end of Donegal's game in Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan, on Saturday evening. There was a carnival atmosphere with young kids and family members on the field with the Donegal players, getting photographs and autographs.

They had cheered every Donegal player substituted as the result of the game was in little doubt after Eoin McHugh's 38th minute goal.

Donegal are back in a good place and looking at ease in the top flight. And what makes it so exciting is that there are a number of other young talented players still to feature.

The U-21s have their Ulster Championship outing on Wednesday next against Tyrone and for Declan Bonner and his backroom team, picking a first 15 will be a major challenge in itself - a great luxury for any manager.

And looking a little further down the line, you have the likes of Aaron Doherty of Naomh Columba, arguably the best underage talent we have seen in a long time. He was on the losing side in a brilliant game of football in the Markey Cup final on Friday last in Irvinestown with Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon defeating Coláiste na Carraige. The Ballyshannon side are well equipped to go further and have an All-Ireland semi-final tomorrow (Friday) against Presentation De La Salle, Bagnelstown (Carlow).

On Saturday night, Ciaran Thompson continued to impress and has the ability to be a special player for Donegal. Is he the most talented of the Thompson household? He gives Donegal something special in that he is a scoring midfielder/half-forward and is also a good freetaker. He is picking up man of the match awards to rival CJ Stander of Munster rugby.

There were plenty of other positives from the Cavan game although caution should be exercised as regards the quality of the opposition, who didn't seem to have any sort of game plan until they lost their captain Killian Brady to a red card. They then went into defensive mode, even though they were trailing. Donegal had to be patient, and that's where the likes of Thompson are so valuable, being able to kick points from distance.

Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh are two players who seem to be targeted by the opposition in every game now, not being allowed to make runs. Murphy was stopped time after time but not once was there a punishment.

Team line-out bogey

It seems to be a GAA thing. Releasing a starting team, but making changes before the game starts. It is not just a Donegal thing. But surely it is doing a disservice to the many loyal supporters who travel week in, week out to the games.

I know that teams have to be submitted for programmes early in the week, and it is not always possible to have the starting team.

However, in the last two weeks, Donegal starting teams were released to the press around 24 hours before the throw-in, yet all that was released was the team that was submitted for the programme three or four days earlier. On the last two weeks, there were changes made that were obviously not made in the hours before throw-in. In that case it would be better not to release any team at all, rather than releasing a team that is known to be incorrect. We have enough 'fake news' at the moment!

Good luck to Sean

My neighbour, Sean Perry, made his TV commentary bow on Saturday night with eir Sport at the Donegal-Cavan game. Having to commentate on your native county is a difficult place to start, but he has the ability to go far.

As for his co-commentator on Saturday night, Stephen O'Neill, the former Tyrone star - I felt he was a little hard on Michael Murphy, almost intimating that he was feigning injury after being poleaxed by a kidney punch in the first half. It seems O'Neill has not forgotten that hit he received from Neil McGee in MacCumhaill Park in July 2013!

Ollie holds fire

The performance of referees was brought back into focus last weekend with some big decisions missed, both in England, and in the League of Ireland.

Finn Harps were at the centre of some strange decisions by referee, Anthony Buttimer, during their 5-3 defeat to Cork. The Cork official came in for a lot of criticism after the game - but not, it must be said, from the Harps manager. Deep down Ollie Horgan can't have been happy with Buttimer's display, but his after-match comments focused on the fact that his team defended poorly and conceded five goals. I can't help but think that Horgan has learned from experience that having a go at a match official, particularly so early in the campaign, will do him no favours in the weeks and months ahead.