If during the summer we meet Tyrone in the Ulster championship and they play like they did on Saturday night, we’ll all be delighted.
It’s a long time since I have seen a Tyrone side so unprepared for any game. Take nothing away from Donegal, apart from the Kerry game in Letterkenny where they might have struggled defensively at times, they have been playing at a higher level since. Their energy, intensity and their fitness levels have been top drawer.
At the start of the year it would have been easy to be under the impression that we could have struggled this year. A lot of new lads were being introduced and it’s never easy knowing how the older lads are going to come back after a bit of a lay-off. The new lads have not been found wanting; they have excelled since their introductions and now seem at ease playing at this level.
It does help when the likes of Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath are playing in your back six. Also the influence of Ryan McHugh and Michael Murphy has been immense since the league kicked off.
Ciaran Thompson, Eoin McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher have been excellent since they have got a decent run of games under their belt. Marty O’Reilly has continued where he left off last year and is a vital cog in the Donegal wheel. Mark Anthony McGinley, after a bit of a shaky start, has found his confidence and with a settled defence in front of him will only improve.
Something that has been very impressive this year is the different scorers that have come forward. We have become accustomed to Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty chalking up the numbers but with Ciaran Thompson, the two McHughs, Hugh McFadden and Jason McGee all showing the courage to have a go it makes us a harder team to anticipate and not as easy closed down.
Donegal now find themselves going into the last two games with the opportunity to make the National League final. Monaghan will come to Ballyshannon this Sunday with the same idea, and they have Dublin in the final game so, realistically, if they are to have any chance they will need a victory.
Donegal, too, if it is their intention to push on and maybe try and burst the Dub’s bubble, will have to take full advantage of playing on home soil, as their final game away to Mayo, who may need to win in order to avoid relegation.
It will not be straightforward. Indeed this year’s National League has thrown up some indifferent results, no more so than Cavan’s win last weekend against Mayo in Castlebar. Cavan were woeful against Donegal. Dublin picked up two points at their ease in Breffni. However, they did pick up a point away to Monaghan in Castleblayney, not an easy place to go and get anything out of it.
Tyrone, up to last weekend, have been going alright and it could be put down to one of those nights and we would be naive to believe that they are that bad and it will count for nothing when the summer comes.
They, too, have a chance to make the final but with games against Mayo and Kerry they may be quite happy to maintain their Division One status and prepare for the championship.
Kerry will do enough to maintain their status but their home form has left a lot to be desired and something that Eamonn Fitzmaurice will want to sort out. Roscommon were the up and coming side last year; they put Kevin McStay along with Fergal O’Donnell, who had great success at underage with many of the present squad. O’Donnell was let go or relieved of his duties before the start of the National League. They have not picked up a single point so far and pressure is mounting from local media within Roscommon. Past players have let their feelings be known publicly and with Mayo and Galway getting back to their best, an easy Connacht championship is not on the horizon.
Dublin will set a new record of going unbeaten when they take on Roscommon next Saturday evening in Croke Park. To be fair this year they have been tested more than maybe the last few national leagues. However, they have set high standards for themselves. Yes, they may have got a few decisions on the way but you can be sure there was a few that didn’t go their way also. For amateur players to conduct themselves in this fashion, especially after winning All-Irelands, and still show the desire and hunger is a great credit both to themselves and their team ethic.
Just a couple of points from a few of last weekend’s games. It was interesting that there were 13 yellow cards in the Dublin-Kerry game; Ciaran Kilkenny received a second one in the last minute as Dublin finished with 14 men, but what stood out was that eight of them could have been black cards, yet none were shown. The yellow seemed to be a handier option for the referee.
In the Donegal-Tyrone game, skirmish after skirmish and a few yellow cards were flashed, one usually to each side; it’s like we’ll give one or two to both sides and that will keep both sides quiet, yet the aggressor gets away with it.