Before discussing the meeting of Donegal and Tyrone in next Sunday’s Ulster semi-final encounter in Clones, I want to refer to something that happened the weekend before last, when very few of the starting 15 that took the field against Antrim played for their clubs in county league matches.
For some, it may not have cost them a second thought, but for others it set a dangerous precedent.
For some this does not cause too much of a stir because it has become the fashion that at this time of the year county players generally do not play much club football. But two weeks before the Ulster championship game against Tyrone you would have expected the majority of players to feature.
What makes this odd is that the county manager and his management team have made it very clear they did not ask the players not to play for their respective clubs; the county fixtures committee didn’t arrange star fixtures as they, too, expected the county players to feature on the Saturday evening fixtures.
So who else could have made the decision? Or was it just a massive coincidence? Well if it wasn’t the county manager or the county board that made the call it could only be one other group that made the call, the players.
If this was the case have we opened a complex issue that will have serious consequences for clubs and indeed county players going forward.
Of course, we will never know because nothing would have ever been made official but if this is what the future holds where decisions can be made without going through the proper channels only chaos can ensue.
If whoever made this call believe that two weeks before a big championship game that county players should not be playing for their clubs, what’s to say that it won’t go out to three weeks or maybe let’s say when the Ulster championship starts that players only concentrate on county matters and don’t bother togging out for their clubs; problem solved.
But it doesn’t stop there. What about the managers and management teams of the rest of the county squads? The underage and development teams, if they see that the seniors have set out a rule that was not challenged by anyone - not one word; no one came out from any club and cast disapproval over the matter; not one club representative took to the airwaves to voice their anger at the ‘coincidence’.
Why? Is there something to fear from speaking out? Have we not certain rules and guidelines that have to be adhered to? Or are we going to let the tail wag the dog?
What if this sort of ‘coincidence’ finds its way into the underage set up? Are they not entitled to the same level of preparation that our senior footballers are afforded?
I can make no assumption as to what happened but I know that this was not respectful towards the club managers and especially the club players that keep the games going. Such actions can only deepen the divide that has become ever more evident between club and county.
Even since last year’s Ulster final many of the Donegal players would have looked forward to getting another chance to put the record straight against our near neighbours,Tyrone.
I, like many others,believed that it was a championship that was let slip away rather than Tyrone grabbing it from us. Either way both teams will have something to prove come next Sunday.
Very little can be taken from either side’s first round games against Antrim and Derry, and as for the encounter between Donegal and Tyrone in the National League, that game will bear no resemblance when it comes to throw-in next weekend.
This will most definitely be the first big test that many of the new faces in the Donegal county team this year will face. Playing underage or National League is one thing but the intensity, physicality and sheer determination that will be expected from everyone that takes the field on Sunday is completely different.
Both sides put up some big numbers in their first round games. Donegal hit three goals and 19 points against Antrim; Tyrone hit 22 points against Derry but I doubt you will see that sort of scoring come Sunday. Tactically, both teams will set up the same; both sides will retreat when they are not in possession of the ball and make it as hard as possible for the other side to score. Both sets of players will be told to hold onto possession until the opening comes their way and at no time force the issue.
No doubt, there will be plenty of physical battles all over the field with both managers singling out certain players for close scrutiny. The referee and his officials will come under serious pressure to keep the lid on what I would expect to be intense battle.
If Donegal are to prevail it could come down to the fact that Tyrone have struggled to score goals of late. I don’t see them getting anywhere near 14 or 15 points against a very tight Donegal defence. Likewise I don’t see Tyrone leaving the same openings as the likes of Antrim did; a cagey affair that could come down to a kick of a ball.
Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte were the main men against Derry. I expect Neil McGee and Frank McGylnn to take care of business there while Donegal will depend heavily once again on the likes of Michael Murphy, Ciaran Thompson and Paddy McBrearty to get us over the line.
I don’t expect the purists to be looking forward to this one.