Donegal live to fight another day after a narrow victory over Meath last Saturday. There was a much- improved performance from the Donegal men in Navan which was always going to be a tight affair. Getting through to the next round is really all that matters at this stage of the competition. The disappointment of losing to Tyrone must be left in the memory bank for another day. Our new recruits are adapting to championship fare with every game. Playing on consecutive weekends is energy sapping, so having a break this weekend will be welcomed by all and sundry. After a shock result in the Connacht final, we will now play Galway who were timid against Roscommon to say the least.
Galway had home advantage last Sunday and must have thought they had only to turn up to win the title. Roscommon didn’t read the script though. In fact, The Rossies made Galway look like a very average team. Having beaten one of the title favourites Mayo in the semi-final, we all thought Galway would canter through the final. The unexpected Roscommon win is refreshing. They played some delightful football at times while Galway struggled to made any serious impact on the game. They looked sluggish, unfit and disinterested. Tactically too, they were disorganised and bereft of ideas.
In retrospect, we should not have put so much faith in this Galway team because their semi-final opponents are a struggling outfit as we witnessed when the eventually overcame a spirited Clare team last Saturday. Mayo, like ourselves, are still in the hunt. They will now face Cork in the next round on the same day as we play Galway, Saturday 22nd July.
I believe that we have a great chance against Galway which will be played in Sligo. I was very heartened by our display against Meath. We improved in every sector of the pitch which must be pleasing for Donegal manager Rory Gallagher. It is not easy to lift a team who performed so poorly against lowly opposition the previous Saturday. It was obvious that our lads were suffering from the hangover of losing to neighbours Tyrone. We are back to proper competitive championship standard now.
Despite our rollercoaster campaign, Galway will not relish the Donegal challenge. We are on a winning streak and they will surely be on a downer after a very disappointing display against Roscommon. For the many supporters who travelled to Navan last Saturday and indeed who supported Donegal the previous week in Ballybofey, things are looking much brighter. Navan is never an easy place to go and get a result but, the travelling Donegal people did their part last Saturday.
All roads lead to Clones this Sunday for the Ulster final between Tyrone and surprise package Down. Historically, Down have been a bogey team for the O’Neill county. Currently, I feel that Tyrone’s experience and power will prove too much for the Mourne men. Down have done brilliantly to reach the final but, Tyrone is a different animal nowadays.
One cannot but be impressed by their performances to date in the Ulster championship, especially the manner in which they eased past a much-fancied Donegal team in the Ulster semi-final. It was men against boys. They barely put a foot wrong that day. One cannot say that it was luck. Their manager, Mickey Harte is a shrewd and experienced tactician. Tyrone have won three All-Ireland titles under Harte in recent times. He also has the ability to get the most out of his players which is a prerequisite for success in any sport and at any level. He has done it all and has to be respected and admired for his contribution to not only his native county but, to GAA football in general.
In defeat, managers will always have their detractors and Mickey Harte has had plenty of those in his own county. He is neither flamboyant or conspicuous about his successes. He keeps his head down and gets on with his business without much ado or fuss. Let’s not forget that he won the Ulster title last year, too, against Donegal in a game that we should have won. We didn’t.
Down have managed to reach this year’s final with a no-nonsense approach. They beat neighbours Armagh in a real scrap. I feel that they caught Monaghan on the hop but persisted with their ‘in your face’ tactics. They certainly will not cave in to a much better Tyrone team but, I feel that Tyrone’s balance, technical ability and work ethic will prove too much for them.
Mickey Harte and his team will have analysed Down’s recent games and will know what to expect. Tyrone have always been good at negating the opposition’s strengths and Sunday’s will not be any different.
I met an old friend from Aughabrack on the street in Strabane last week. He had his chest pumped out just like he had in 2008 when Tyrone last won the All-Ireland title. “We’re in with a chance” he said. Get over Down on Sunday and then we’ll see. I hope so.
I’ll be in Clones on Sunday, more by default than anything else. The jubilee team from 1992 will be honoured for our Ulster final win 25 years ago. Many Donegal people are saying that it’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed. Well, it’s not. I feel every minute of it and I feel exhausted even watching the pace football now that I’m old and decrepit. My knees and shoulders ache and I’m starting to take the odd nap on my rocking chair in the evenings. Well, that’s not true, thank God. We are all blessed to be still around and still very active and are looking forward to Sunday immensely.
This old man is heading off to walk the Camino de Santiago on Monday for 10 days. I hope that my body will be able for what lies ahead. Anyway, I’ll keep the faith. See you on Sunday!