Rory Gallagher and his Fermanagh players sent out a gentle reminder to all those managers and players who play for the so-called strong counties that every so often they can be caught.
It is probably not even fair to suggest that Fermanagh caught Monaghan. They went to Omagh last Sunday with a game plan, frustrated the Monaghan management and players, got under their skin and in the end booked their place in the Ulster final.
Many of the pundits have suggested that Monaghan were not at their best. Maybe they were not let get to their best. Monaghan showed a lot of different plays in their victory over Tyrone, but Fermanagh worked on trying to stop those moves. They defended in huge numbers and made sure that Monaghan didn’t get space in which to play their football.
If Fermanagh have a problem it will be at the other end. They only had nine scores, only three in the second half, something I have no doubt they will work on before the Ulster final.
Declan Bonner will not have to remind his players about taking Down for granted, Fermanagh’s win will have been a shock to many but a reminder that any team on any given day can win. It shows that where things go right for you and maybe the other side are not at their best, or not let be at their best, you can get a result.
Down are just the same going into Sunday as Fermanagh were going into last Sunday’s game. Down have nothing to lose; they go into the game with very little expectation on their shoulders, whereas Donegal, after Monaghan’s defeat, are now expected to lift the Anglo Celt.
Managers and players don’t think like that, but supporters do. And that sometimes can get into the minds of those that have not had the experience of being in this situation before.
One of the hardest jobs that Declan Bonner and his management team will have to deal with is the expectation after the defeat of Monaghan. They will know that the pressure is on Donegal now to perform and win on Sunday and then take Fermanagh in the Ulster final. That’s just the way it is in sport and players will have to deal with it.
They will lean heavily on the more experienced lads to get them through, but if they can manage to hold their nerve, stick to the way they have played the game and not fall into the trap of getting involved in the other side’s antics they will be okay.
As I said Down go into the game on Sunday with no pressure on their shoulders. They overcame Antrim in the first round and to be fair were never tested. They coasted through the last 20 minutes and showed that there is still plenty of good footballers in Down to cause an upset or two.
Remember at this stage last year they beat Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final and gave a better account in the final against Tyrone than many would have expected. So they have experience of being in this situation.
They, too, will be thinking if they get through on Sunday they might have a good chance in the final.
Declan and his management team will have touched on all this before the game next Sunday and will try and guard against any complacency creeping into the side. I have no doubt they have enough in their armour to see this out but it’s important not to take things for granted.
While Donegal never got out of second or third gear against Derry, there were moments if Derry had to take the chances that were presented to them, you thought, would we be in trouble? Or can these lads step it up when they want? It can be a dangerous game. Very few teams, if any, can just hit a button and play at their best when they want. It’s all in the preparation. The old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.
It was not a great result for the U-20s last Sunday morning in Omagh. Derry, with a good few of the minors that contested the All-Ireland final, were too strong in the end after such a great start by Gary McDaid’s men. Many in Donegal would have expected this group to go further. Many of the players involved would be expected to go straight into the senior ranks in the next few years.
Just a point I would make on players coming through development squads, U-17 and U-20 squads, many of these lads have developed early in their careers and at some point they become stale. They have the talent but they have invested so much in a short space of time, it’s hard for them to have that hunger that’s required to get to the top.
Managers have to look to the late developers who are playing week in and week out for their clubs and give them the chance to fit in at this level. They are the ones who have not been tamed by the county machine and their hunger and enthusiasm can infect all those around them.