Although Donegal’s last league game ended in defeat, Rory Gallagher and his players can be well pleased with the overall campaign. Our inter-county debutants came through with flying colours which is a massive boost for the forthcoming Ulster championship. But for Tyrone’s poor display against Kerry last Sunday, Donegal would have been facing Dublin in the league decider. That’s how close we were.
I cannot really comment on Donegal’s game against Mayo in Castlebar since I opted to stay at home and hoped that we would be in Croke Park this Sunday. Mayo needed to win this game in case other results would have sent them to Division 2. So, this was always going to be a hard ask even if we had the services of the injured Ryan McHugh. Still, we have to take the positives from last Sunday and indeed our overall series of league games.
At the outset of the league back in February our main aim was to maintain Division 1 status which was perceived as a difficult task given the raft of retirements from the Donegal panel. Our doubts regarding the staying power of our new recruits proved unfounded. Former minor and current U-21 manager, Declan Bonner, brought many of these lads through the ranks and they have slotted into senior inter-county football remarkably well.
As it stands, Donegal and Monaghan would be favourites for the Ulster title this season. Tyrone’s recent defeats have to be a matter of concern for them. I watched them against Donegal and it is difficult to know if Donegal were so good or that Tyrone were so poor. They were a shadow of the team we have come to know down the years where they lacked bite, intensity and lacked ideas. A long serving Tyrone player was forced to come out with a statement in February denying that the team was under resourced financially after another player Ronan McNamee said: "Some people don't get paid full amounts of what they would claim … If it has been talked about by players, it's obviously going to affect it [morale] in some way. If it wasn't a problem, they wouldn't be talking about it … I'm not sure all of it [letter] would have been as bad as it came out but at the same time, there are things that could improve … money is not everything but it would damn help. So, if other teams are the top of the pile as spending €1.6m, they're spending it for a reason."
A further statement by the Tyrone PRO, read: "On behalf of the Tyrone senior football squad, I wish to make it known that we are very well resourced by the county board, Club Tyrone and our other sponsors and brand partners … yes, there were some issues of a minor nature but these matters are being addressed. We are most grateful for the continued support of the county board, Club Tyrone and our
other generous sponsors."
There are obviously issues irrespective of denials. Tyrone is a proud GAA county with fervent supporters and their recent decline will not go unnoticed or without an inquisition. There appears to be some sorting out to be done before they face Derry on May 28th in the Ulster championship. Even with their demise Tyrone will beat Derry who were relegated to Division 3 last Sunday along with Fermanagh.
We often talk about the gulf between teams nationally but now a major gap in Ulster has developed. The big three of Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone have raced ahead of the rest. Unless teams are financially equipped in the modern game they will certainly fall behind. It was interesting to watch Monaghan and Dublin play out a great game in Clones last Sunday. Monaghan are undoubtedly dogged and could have eclipsed the Dubs but for some slack defending in the last 10 minutes of the game. Dublin got a taste of what Ulster championship football is like when they swaggered into Clones. Dublin started the game without some of their big guns but were forced to introduce them as the game seemed to be slipping from them. It was a full-blooded affair and Monaghan threw everything at Dublin. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. One has to admire Dublin’s resolve though and showed their character with some stunning play in the last quarter. Monaghan did expose their frailties and weaknesses though which gives the rest of us hope.
Monaghan, too, will be mindful of Tyrone’s demise in recent weeks. They will be delighted with their overall league campaign which stands them in good stead for the championship. It is still a three- horse race in Ulster, though.
It would have been great for Donegal to reach the league decider in Croke Park this Sunday. It would have been another competitive game plus it would have been interesting to see how far our lads could push the All-Ireland champions. Instead it will be Kerry who will pit their wits against them. Having played all the so-called best teams in the country, Donegal know that they can compete with them. Rory Gallagher and his players have done a great job and instilled pride and hope for us the supporters for the real business ahead. It’s time for the players to get a well-deserved rest and get our injuries sorted.
The forthcoming trip to New York will be a welcome break. Let’s not forget Declan Bonner and our U-21s who played last night. Let’s hope that the result is a favourable one. All’s good in Donegal and let’s hope that the summer bears many fruits.
Keep the faith!