So, what did Donegal, Monaghan and Mayo learn from their one-sided victories over very weak opposition last weekend? Very little I suggest. There were no shocks, no surprises and to be honest no excitement. That’s how the championship system is structured and we have to accept it. The mission impossible for Antrim, Fermanagh and Sligo was always going to be that, a mission impossible. Those who thought that any of these teams were going to beat their much superior opponents were deluded.
We can’t blame the winning teams because they can only play what is put before them. The GAA hierarchy will be justified in their decision to rearrange the championship format with their ‘Super 8’. Wait until the Dublin juggernaut hits the road on Saturday week when they will wipe away Carlow. The latter will join Antrim, Fermanagh, Sligo, Longford, Wicklow and Waterford in the hat for the ‘back-door’ which is another waste of time for these teams.
For the supporters and the players, it must be demoralising to know that they don’t have any hope of beating the top tier teams. To represent your county is a great honour but to be thrashed does nothing to instil pride in the jersey.
I watched Antrim’s Sean McVeigh trying to marshal Michael Murphy all afternoon on Sunday. It was a David versus Goliath contest. Eventually, McVeigh was hauled off after a torrid experience. Antrim’s basic technical skills were second best to Donegal’s. Their movement and fluency was laboured and lacked incisiveness. Granted, they did penetrate the Donegal defence at times but one couldn’t blame the Donegal men from switching off at times in what was a dull and non-eventful contest.
The restructured format of the ‘Super 8’ cannot come soon enough. The system as it is is flawed. The GAA, the supporters and especially the players are losing out. Winning players learn little from hammering other teams while losing players become disillusioned.
Donegal gave a very professional and solid display against Antrim. After a shaky start, Donegal eventually got into their stride with a goal before half-time which ended this game as a contest. I was concerned at times how Antrim were able to kick the ball behind our full-back line, something that will not be lost on tougher opponents in the games ahead. Better forwards would have taken these goal opportunities. Still, at no stage were Donegal ever not in control.
When the game drifted into the Ballybofey sunset for Antrim, Donegal manager Rory Gallagher introduced a raft of players. It was great to see Patrick McBrearty come on after getting over a stubborn injury. Experienced players Karl Lacey, Martin McElhinney and Mark McHugh were also introduced into the fray which is positive for the games which lie ahead. Even though Antrim offered little resistance, it was still a championship contest and our new youngsters came through with flying colours. As stated, we will have learned little from this mismatch. Nobody in the Donegal set-up will read too much into the result, suffice to say that it is a game under the belt and move on to the semi-final.
The winners from the first-round game between Derry and Tyrone on Sunday will play Donegal in that semi-final. Derry. Although Derry have home advantage, it would be a shock if Tyrone were to lose. I hear that Tyrone have regrouped since their heavy defeat to Donegal in the National League. Their training has been quite ferocious apparently. Derry won only two games in the National League and were relegated to Division 3. Like Armagh and Down, Derry have lost ground on the Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone in recent years. They are a far cry from the team that I used to play against many years ago. I always liked Derry football because they played with flair and tenacity. They also are a proud GAA county and I’m sure that their supporters are not happy with their recent decline. They have a chance on Sunday to make amends but I feel that Tyrone will prove a step too far for them. They were without the Slaughtneil players for many of their National League games, so their inclusion will be a huge benefit to Derry.
It’s no secret that Tyrone are the favourites for the Ulster title this year. That’s surprising given their form at the latter stages of the league. That sits well with the other Ulster teams, especially Donegal. For now, though, I believe that Tyrone will win handsomely and move on to a much-awaited encounter with Donegal on June 18th.
Reverting to last Sunday, it wasn’t a great day for our minors who suffered a surprise defeat to Antrim. It was heart-breathing for our youngsters as they lost out by a single point after extra time. It’s always difficult to predict how under-age teams will perform because of their inexperience and how they handle the pressure of a big occasion. These young men will get over this defeat quickly and will move on. They are only starting out on their football journey. As a minor, I was on more losing than winning teams. Hopefully, the disappointment of losing this game will drive these lads to greater things in the years ahead.
Keep the faith!