It was not the result that Donegal wanted or indeed needed, on Saturday night against Tyrone and it leaves us in as very precarious position in terms of relegation from Division One of the National League.
Donegal started well, indeed controlled the game for the first 25 minutes or so. Plenty of chances and in total control around the middle of the field, we played some nice football and created a lot of good chances, some of which, on another day, would have split the posts.
Michael Murphy was on the edge of the square with Jamie Brennan and Ciaran Thompson in support. Murphy looked sharp but was always under a lot of pressure when in front of goal. Odhran Mac Niallais and Hugh McFadden started well in the middle of the field, both getting on the score sheet with some well taken points.
Donegal were excellent in going forward in those first 20 odd minutes but like the other National League games this year, and which has to be of great concern for the Donegal management, is how open we are in the defence. Tyrone frequently were able to go through the middle to set up their scores, some of which were taken without a hand or a decent tackle being laid on them, while on the other end the Donegal forwards were being hounded every time they were about to pull the trigger in attack.
The goal just before half-time came directly because a Donegal player was put under pressure by three or four Tyrone players when in possession, something that we were very good at under Jim McGuinness.
Tyrone were in our faces in the second half; they put us under pressure straight away from the throw-in and once they got in front they were always going to be difficult to catch.
Whatever Mickey Harte said to the Tyrone players at half-time certainly worked; they upped their intensity and work rate in the first 15 minutes of the second half and we did not have the answers. They are a good side and regardless of recent results in the National League or McKenna cup they are going to be the team to beat come the championship.
If there was one thing that Tyrone showed on Saturday night it was their eagerness to kick pass the ball into their full-forward line. They also tackled in numbers, they waited to isolate a Donegal player and then close him down quickly and make the turnover; they tackled on the edge and on many other days could have given away a few more frees but like everyone else in Healy Park on Saturday night, the confusion around what is and what is not a tackle is leaving many that support, play and try and coach the game even more confused than before.
I have always made the point that the pace of the game has left many match officials struggling to keep up with the speed of the game. There was a moment in the second half when the referee had to run from one end of the field to the other end to talk to his umpires and end up just giving yellows cards to a Donegal and Tyrone player. It slowed the game and certainly annoyed the supporters. Why the umpires are not all hooked up and telling the match official through a microphone is confusing to say the least?
It’s interesting that all that we hear after games now is the performance of the referee. The Dublin-Kerry game was a great example of why supporters are so confused. Dublin and Kerry players being black carded for fouls that were not even blown as a free in the Donegal-Tyrone game. Indeed last week the Dublin manager, Jim Gavin, suggested that the powers that be seem to be on a quest to sanitise the game. When you consider the physicality that we have in hurling and what is been given as a free in football makes no sense. Also there is little or no consistency between what every referee considers a foul. It has been suggested by many in the game that we need to, as an organisation, take a look at the rules of the game and simplify the tackle and allow physical contact which in turn would help match officials rather than heaping further rules on top of which is already a major workload. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.
Interesting view made by James McHugh from the Ardara club about our underage players being asked not to participate in club games while involved with development or county squads. As someone who was involved with underage football in the last number of years I understand the frustration that is out there when it comes to the availability of our best young players. What exactly to we expect from these young lads? Times have changed and with all the media spotlight being firmly placed on intercounty games, young lads’ heads can be turned when they get the chance to play for their county. On the other hand those in charge of these county squads have to be careful in what they say and expect in return from these players.
Senior squads have become so professional and serious that it’s expected that every team follow suit. We have seen enough in this county to know that once players go into county squads that they’re expected to fully commit and everything and everybody else comes second. Right or wrong, that’s the perceived reality.
Are we heading down the road where club players, both at senior and underage, will only be available to their clubs when the county managers decide? Are clubs now just the breeding ground for county teams? Have we got to a stage were the club really doesn’t matter that much anymore?