As usual around this time we look at the past year and look forward to the next twelve months. The Donegal management took a surprising decision not to participate in the McKenna Cup of 2017, instead the U-21 team took their place. They struggled at times, but it helped them when it came to the U-21 championship, winning an Ulster championship but falling to Dublin in the semi-final.
Declan Bonner’s men had only a short break between the Ulster final and their game with the Leinster champions, who would go on to beat Galway and win another All-Ireland crown.
Staying in Division One of the National League was hugely important to the development of the squad moving forward. While an opening day defeat to Kerry in Letterkenny was a bit of a setback, after that Donegal were more than comfortable and only missed qualification for the final by a score difference of three points to the eventual winners Kerry.
The focus was always around the Ulster championship and Donegal, under Rory Gallagher, made no secret of their desire to make it to another Ulster final. A comprehensive victory over a poor Antrim side in Ballybofey in the first game may have heightened our expectation but they were soon quashed by an empathic Tyrone team who ran us ragged in the sunshine of Clones.
Victories over Longford at home and a last gasp victory over Meath away set us up for a clash with Galway. Not our best day at the office and many questions were left unanswered about where exactly the team were at and how they would move forward.
Rory Gallagher decided to call time on his tenure with Donegal and moved on to pastures new. To be fair to Rory it was never going to be easy stepping into the job after Jim McGuinness and no one could have accused him of not giving it everything. Supporters need to recognise that managers can only prepare the players but once they cross that white line the responsibility lies with the players and if they’re not good enough so be it. People who follow Donegal have to have realistic expectations from whoever is in charge. What was very disappointing was the amount of social media abuse directed at Rory and his management team. It has become a scourge of modern day living.
Regardless of who stepped into the job, there is a long road ahead. The dominance of Dublin and the emergence of Tyrone in Ulster and with the likes of Mayo and Kerry never far away, getting back to the highs of 2012 will not be easy.
Declan Bonner is now in the hot seat; he will be judged on results, not his style of play, defensive tactics or game plans, results will define whether he is a success or not. As supporters we need to have realistic expectations and staying in Division One, maybe getting to an Ulster final and qualification for the super eights would be a great start.
On the club front, Kilcar ended a 24 year wait for another senior championship title. They were the outstanding team of the year dominating both the league and the championship beating Glenties in the final. Their Ulster club run was only ended by a superb Slaughtneil team who pulled out all the stops to get over the line in what was probably the best game of club football for a long time,.Kilcar will know with a bit more experience under their belt they are not far away from breaking the Donegal duck in Ulster.
The Dublin juggernaut keeps rolling on. While Mayo ran them very close the strength of the Dublin squad was what got them over the line. I doubt if supporters can really understand the magnitude of their achievement, sustaining the commitment, hunger and desire and adding new players to the squad annually has been the cornerstone of Jim Gavin’s success. Dublin put a long term plan in place many years ago. They looked at the bigger picture instead of short term goals and are now reaping the rewards. While other counties would struggle to sustain the financial commitment that Dublin GAA have managed, they need to look at the infrastructure that the Dublin county board have put in place, and follow their long term view.
With the new football championship format kicking in this year with the super eight competition and a more condensed championship fixture list, the chances that inter-county managers will release club players throughout the summer months are extremely low. Soon county players will only be released to their clubs when their season is finished, and clubs will just have to live with it.
On the national front the Republic of Ireland soccer team were close to getting to the World Cup in Russia. Their first leg performance in Denmark gave them the opportunity to have a real go in Dublin. However, Denmark’s extra quality shone through in the end. What you would question was the reaction towards the tactics used by the Irish management team. If they go out to defend they are not allowing their so called play makers to express themselves. Yet when he did and we got a bit of a hammering they questioned his tactics. Who would be a manager?
On the rugby front, the Irish team goes from strength to strength but rugby has come under close scrutiny on the subject of concussion. The professional game has brought bigger, stronger, better conditioned athletes to the game and the hits are getting to a stage were parents are reluctant to let their children take up the game. The bodies who control the sport have tried their best to tinker with the rules to lessen the impacts, but parents are still concerned when they see the huge hits during the international and provincial games. I expect this story to get bigger especially after the American football league body had to make a considerable payment to past players.
Hope you had a great Christmas and that 2018 is good to you.