Does Donegal need a Director of Football?

THE SPORTING DIARY with Sports Ed Peter Campbell

Does Donegal need a Director of Football?

Does Donegal need a Director of Football?

The inquests after Saturday night's game will continue for some time and they will throw up all sorts of discussion over why Donegal were not able to compete with Galway.

For the first time since 2010, Donegal will not play a championship game in Croke Park, and the Donegal supporters, who have been spoiled for choice in those six intervening years, are a little disappointed.

But it seems that expectations will have to be lowered considerably over the next few years as the arduous task of rebuilding Team Donegal begins again.

And to do so will need the co-operation of all the different levels of the game, from U-14 to senior. In his column this week Manus Boyle has mentioned the burn-out factor for the seniors over a long period and especially for the U-21s this year.

It is a well made point, and it could and should be expanded further. Donegal's potentially two best underage teams in 2017 were the U-17s and U-21s yet neither were afforded a fair playing field in their competitions, the U-17s internally and the U-21s internally and externally (Ulster Council fixture issues).

For these reasons, the question at the top of this column should be examined. Does Donegal need a Director of Football? Maybe not just Donegal, but every county.

At present county managers have complete control of the players, and as is their right, they exercise that control to what they feel is best for THEIR team. Each individual manager wants their own team to be successful, and you can't blame them for that.

But is that always best for the county? I would feel that the evidence from 2017 in Donegal does not agree. Our U-21s were serving two, three and four masters at times during the early part of the year. No U-18 or U-19 is going to turn down the chance to train and play with the senior team.

Going further down the line, our U-17 team went down narrowly to Tyrone (who went on to win Ulster) despite playing without the cream of the county's U-17 talent.

This is where a Director of Football would be an arbiter who could decide what's best for the county, rather than individual managers deciding what’s best for their own team.

The issues that arose in 2017 may not be a major factor in 2018 at the lower age group with the U-17s replacing the minor age group, but it will still be an issue at the other level with the new U-20s and the seniors. I have already mentioned previously that it will be imperative that the senior management also have responsibility for the U-20s, otherwise you will have the same tug-o’-war which puts the unfortunate players in a no-win situation.

GREAT CYCLE

But whatever about going forward, we must not forget that we have witnessed a golden period of Donegal GAA over the last six years - three Ulster titles (from six Ulster final appearances), one All-Ireland senior title (from two All-Ireland final appearances), two Ulster minor titles, one All-Ireland minor final appearance (our first ever) and an Ulster U-21 title in 2017.

We could lose more players to retirement after this year, but any of the players who have been part of those memorable six years can walk away with their heads held high. They have been a credit to everybody with many of them now being head-hunted to comment on games - which is a true mark of their achievements.

The Donegal style of football over that time was very high energy and as Manus Boyle also says in his column, that has to be a factor in curtailing the longevity of their careers.

But it was never any other way, especially in Ulster. It might be okay for the Kerrys and Dublins and even Mayos to take it easy early in the year, hoping to peak for August, but it was never that way in Ulster.

Back in the 1990s Martin McHugh went to Cavan and brought in Catherina McKiernan’s athletic coach, Joe Doonan, to get the Breffni panel up to speed. They got their reward with an Ulster title in 1997, but it was downhill after that.

Donegal’s preparations when Jim McGuinness came in as manager, went up several notches and they then had the fitness to go with the impressive skill set. It took both, and a mental toughness, to achieve the successes mentioned. But it is also very difficult to sustain.

However, we have to get back on the horse and it will be a matter of building from the bottom once more. The young talent that has come through from minor and U-21 will need nurturing. Maybe that’s where an ‘old experienced head’ might be worth thinking about.

Maybe those powers should be given to the Co. Chairman.

There are lessons that must be learned or otherwise we could suffer further. Can Michael Murphy keep doing what he was doing this summer, trying to fill every gap in the Donegal team? He has been playing senior since 2007 and unless he gets a much needed rest, his intercounty career will be cut short by the age of 30.

Also last year we had players travelling from Sligo to Letterkenny and back just to take part in gym sessions. Surely these can be arranged closer to home so that players/students have a life and have time for study and sleep.

For whatever reason (and only those inside will be able to throw light on it) our systems, especially in defence, went completely awry this year. We may have some difficulty with physicality, but that couldn’t explain the downturn in performance.

It will take a co-ordinated effort to get Donegal back to the top level. Next year we have the Super 8s. A couple of years ago it would have been a given that Donegal would be at that level; now it will be a bonus if we make it to the Super 8s next year.

However, if we build from the bottom and have a good foundation, we have the building blocks to get back there again. The most important thing is that all teams are pulling in the same direction.