Last Sunday was one of those days where there are just no excuses. I have listened to many trying to offer them.
Experience was mentioned. Tyrone had just one of those days where everything went for them. Physicality was even mentioned, the usual excuses that are used all the time when your team is beat out the gate.
It would be easy to be harsh and offer criticism to both the players and the management but it’s not a road I like to take; it solves nothing, easy to be wise in hindsight.
We were simply not at the races. Yes, we were ok for the first 15 or 20 minutes but we were wide open at the back. We didn’t make it hard for Tyrone at any time and were never close enough to put them under pressure.
This is not what we have come to expect from Donegal over the last six or seven years. They have always pushed and pushed the opposition to make mistakes. They have always been the team to dictate the pace of the game and have always played with an intensity that made the opposition nervous. That was certainly not evident on Sunday.
On the other hand, when Donegal attacked they were met with a hardened resistance, very little space to work in and the player on the ball was under pressure and pressed straight away.
Tyrone pushed Donegal to make mistakes; repeatedly we were turned over and gave away the ball in open play, which at this level is not acceptable. We were made to pay. Tyrone came through the middle of our defence and not a decent hand was laid on them. It was more like a challenge game rather than a championship encounter.
Tyrone scored one goal and 19 points from play. I’ll say that again, 1-19 from play. Unbelievable! Am I missing something.
Again, being critical doesn’t solve anything, but you can’t play good sides and leave no one back to shore up your defence. Yes, you must be able to score but your back six are responsible for defending, not going forward all the time, losing the ball and then struggling to get back to close the opposition.
When I hear the likes of Pat Spillane talk about it being a great game I cringed; there wasn’t one decent tackle made. There would be bigger hits in a basketball game. This is not what we have come to expect in the Ulster championship and when Tyrone play the likes of Monaghan or Down in the Ulster final they will not get it as handy.
After a good National League campaign maybe getting an easy opening round game against Antrim did Donegal no favours.Whether or not that got into the minds of the Donegal players is doubtful but something was way off last weekend.
I was critical last week about the players not playing for their club two weeks prior to last Sunday’s encounter and in my opinion it showed. They lacked that game pace and sharpness that does not come from training. Regardless of how hard you train, players prepare differently to play a game than they ever do for training.
But what next, can we learn from the mistakes of last Sunday and get a run in the qualifiers? The draw was kind; home to Longford was as good as you could hope for but it comes with a risk. Donegal will be expected to win and win well. Longford will come to Ballybofey under no pressure and with very little expectations, dangerous ingredients if the Donegal players are not in the right place.
It must be said that this squad started training last October in order to be totally prepared for the National League. The Donegal management set out their stall early by doing a lot of work as to secure Division One status. It would also be fair to assume that to sustain that sort of training and high level of fitness and energy throughout the year and be at your best all the time is asking the impossible. So it’s important to consider all those things before we are over critical but we have to learn if we are to go forward.
It would be fair to suggest that the older players in the squad are well equipped to get over such a defeat. However, the younger lads may not have experienced the disappointment that comes from such a result. The older lads will have to get themselves ready and the management will have to work overtime to get a system in place that does not leave us as wide open, regardless who the opposition is. We have to go back to where we are hard to break down again. We also need to figure out another way of playing the game when Plan A fails.
The next few weeks could determine a great deal of what we can expect in the next few years. More is found out about the strength of character of players and indeed management in defeat than can ever be found out in victory. We have had a great run for the last six or seven years. It would not be a good idea to lose faith now.