The late postponement of the McKenna Cup clash between Monaghan and Donegal in Clones last Sunday left many Donegal supporters very disappointed and annoyed after travelling long distances from the Northwest.
Players’ safety and welfare are paramount. In this modern era of technical advances in weather forecasting, this game should have been called off the previous evening. Apparently, the sun didn’t go “high enough” to thaw out a section of the pitch under the stand. A bit of primary school maths could have told them where the sun was going to be at a certain time. Supporters and especially the away supporters must be shown more respect than was afforded them last Sunday.
Many years ago, the Donegal team travelled to Cork by train at great expense for a National League game only to find that the Pairc Ui Chaoimh pitch was water-logged. That was thirty years ago. It seems that little has changed in respect of match postponements since then.
Anyway, it seems that the McKenna Cup and the other pre-season competitions have run their course. Galway and Mayo supporters were also left wondering why their game was called-off so late in the day when the most prudent decision by the Connaught Council would have been to postpone the match on the evening before.
Dublin crashed out of the O’Byrne Cup in Leinster last weekend but, to them this is a blessing in disguise. None of their regular starting championship fifteen players was involved. Few teams, if any are taking these competitions seriously. Some managers are simply fulfilling fixtures while others may be trying out new players and new systems. Any manager worth his salt will have a fair idea of his National League panel and team without playing these facile games. Because of the postponement last weekend, we already have a fixture problem.
I feel that our inter-county players and third level college players have enough football as it stands. The National League and Sigerson Cup respectively will take precedence. The ultimate aim for inter-county teams is the championship. For the top tiered teams this will only come into sharp focus in mid-summer. Managers of teams who have serious aspirations of winning their respective provincial titles and those aiming to play in the ‘Super 8’ will not risk injury or burn-out at this stage of the season.
We must look at those successful teams of latter years, namely Dublin and use their preparations as a template. Donegal had a comprehensive win against Queens recently which augurs well for our league prospects. Our lads have quite a bit of work done and Declan Bonner will already know his starting line-out for our first game of consequence at the end of January bar one or two players.
Declan will want to do well with his team and will try to maintain Division 1 status. As I said last week, this may be difficult given the tough games for mostly an unseasoned group of players. I never doubt the ability of our Donegal players but it will take time to harness them and to mould them into senior inter-county players. There’s a massive difference between the U-21 and senior grades. The pace, physicality and sharpness of thought are much sharper at senior level.
A new manager brings new ideas and a new voice though and I’m sure that there is plenty of enthusiasm within the squad. Bonner will ensure that there is plenty of competition for places. I also know that he will be strict on discipline. As supporters, I feel that we need to be patient this season. We will take an odd hit here and there but for the better.
Looking ahead to the summer and the championship, Donegal will be as good as any team in Ulster. It is hard to believe that Down reached the Ulster final last year. Tyrone were much too good for them as they were for us in the semi-final. Irrespective of how we perform in the National League, the championship will be the competition where the manager and players will be judged. We have a great draw which couldn’t be better if we hand-picked it ourselves.
By the time we start our championship campaign, our team will have been well hardened to the pleasantries of senior inter-county football. Donegal likes to play football and there’s no better time than the summer when the pitches are firmer and the air is thinner. We will be off the radar as far as the betting goes for the Ulster championship but I believe that we are in with a great chance. Tyrone are still the best team in Ulster which shouldn’t scare us after seeing their complete collapse against Dublin last year. The one thing that I do know about Declan Bonner’s tactics is that he’ll be positive and play attacking football. It’s the only way to go.
January can be a long month for many people but for those of us who are fanatical Gaelic football supporters, the forthcoming National League campaign somehow shortens the time. I’m eager to see Bonner’s new team and new tactics. It will signal the start of a new era.
Tir Conaill Abu!