We all thought that it was going to be a close game. It was for 25 minutes. Then something happened. It was as though Tyrone flicked a switch. They went on the rampage scoring seven unanswered points. In those ten minutes, Tyrone destroyed us. We fell apart, crumbled and were unable to respond. Mickey Harte had his team tactically, physically and mentally prepared. Even the most ardent and expectant Tyrone supporters were surprised by Tyrone’s superb display.
I talked to many Donegal followers after the game last Sunday. We were lost for answers in respect of Donegal’s overall performance. Donegal lacked intensity, cohesion and discipline. Every time Tyrone attacked it was like the parting of the Red Sea. A few hand passes and a sudden injection of pace opened up our defence time after time. We looked heavy legged, lethargic and laboured. Perhaps Tyrone adapted to the humid conditions better than we did. Perhaps our young players found the occasion too big for them. From a player’s perspective. I’ve been there, at the wrong end of a heavy championship defeat…a few times. Monaghan gave us a hammering in Castleblayney and Down beat us into the ground in Clones. Nobody is better qualified to judge a player’s performance than the player himself. Many years ago, Brian McEniff would ask us to go home and think about our performance and rate ourselves out of a score of ten. Our current players will go through a similar process.
Donegal cannot have any excuses. Tyrone outplayed us, out-thought us and gave us a great lesson on how to play football. I have no doubt that every player and those on the management team will have learned so much from this heavy defeat.
In 1989, we drew with Tyrone in the Ulster final. Tyrone didn’t train in the intervening week before the replay. They had a meeting. We trained even harder than we did leading up to the final. We learned nothing. Tyrone beat us well in the replay. There was no back-door system then. We were out. I still believe that there should be no reprieve and no such thing as qualifiers.
Fortunately, for Donegal, we have another chance. We have a handy home tie against Longford on Saturday week. Our players will be nursing their wounds but I believe that we can still go a long way and still present a challenge for any team. We have a great bunch of talented players who did not do themselves justice last Sunday. Rory Gallagher is a smart man and has done brilliantly with this new team. He will require brutal honesty from his players in the weeks ahead.
As onlookers, we can be very critical of our team in defeat. This is a natural response but criticisms can be positive. We can also lambaste the team which serves little purpose. We do not know what goes on within the confines of the Donegal dressing room. This is their issue to sort.
Now’s the time that the players and team management need our support. Honesty within the squad will not allow the players to gloss over what was a dismal afternoon for Donegal football. We need to respond with positivity and humility. I still have belief and confidence in our lads. For some of them this is a new experience because winning is all that they know. There’s no harm in getting a kick up the backside from time to time in a player’s inter-county career.
In my time as a player, I got plenty of these. I know how our present players are feeling right now. There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself. It’s time to get back on the horse. The pain of losing heavily can be soul destroying. Great teams and great players do not become average after a single defeat. Great teams and great players are self-critical and self-analytical and respond with a sting in the tail. Doubts must be cast aside for these Donegal players have pedigree and quality. Accept the defeat and learn from it. Move on.
Elsewhere in the championship, Kildare made light work of a woeful Meath team. Kildare looked impressive but are still far from the finished article. Meath, like Donegal, lacked any intensity. The difference between Meath and Donegal, though, is that we have the potential and capacity to do a lot of damage in this year’s championship yet. Meath have struggled in recent years and do not seem to be making any progress. They face Sligo in the qualifiers which could be a close enough affair.
On that same day, July 1st, Mayo will play an improved Derry team. Mayo, along with Donegal, are the big hitters in the qualifiers and I expect them to make progress. As the championship progresses nobody will want to face either Donegal or Mayo. Both of these teams (if they avoid each other) will make the quarter-finals and who knows, we could be meeting Tyrone again. More imminent is the other Ulster semi-final between Monaghan and Down. I cannot see Monaghan slipping up here.
For Donegal, it’s back to the drawing board and back to basics. We are on a bit of a low after last Sunday but we can make amends starting on Saturday week, July 1st. Don’t write us off yet. We need to go back to what we were doing in the National League. I have no doubt that our lads will bounce back.
We can never lose heart and as always we must keep the faith!