Jim McGuinness constantly talked about respect at Donegal team meetings and in the dressing room. Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke and his team obviously had little respect for their opponents Fermanagh and manager Rory Gallagher in the Ulster semi-final a few weeks ago. Monaghan struggled with Fermanagh’s defensive system, the hunger that the Fermanagh players showed, their discipline and their fitness levels.
Some will say that their goal in the dying seconds was fortuitous but many games are won in this manner. The problem for Monaghan is that they never put their opponents away in those periods when they dominated the game.
Declan Bonner and his Donegal team go into Sunday’s Ulster final as raging hot favourites. The favourites tag never sits well with Donegal. We like to play from the position of underdogs and play our best football when our backs are to the wall. Donegal has earned their label as favourites with their championship dominance in the games to date. We also have a marquee forward line which is as good as is in the country.
Declan Bonner and his management team have done an excellent job in respect of the style of attacking football now on show when Donegal take to the field. They have managed to blend the younger players with the mature lads. Our play is cohesive, fluent and fruitful. And still, we are playing only in third gear. Cavan, Derry and Down offered little resistance. They were simply unable to handle the scoring power, the physicality and the experience of this Donegal team. Donegal are playing from a different baseline however. Although relegated from Division 1 of the National Football League, we played in the top tier section. I’ve no doubt that we’ll back there within a year or two.
Our opponents on Sunday Fermanagh, won promotion from Division 3 to Division 2 in the league this season. Under Rory Gallagher they are progressing. With the resources that he has available to him he will know that he cannot match Donegal for sheer talent and experience but, he can match us for fitness, desire and tact. He did it with Monaghan and you can be sure that he can do it with Donegal. Rory is a master tactician and I’ve always respected his ability to foresee events on the field of play. He isn’t shy on making changes or afraid of taking chances.
We cannot forget that Rory Gallagher had a massive influence when Donegal won the All-Ireland title in 2012. He is back with his native county now and it is clearly evident that he is passionate about his team and their performances. Our weaknesses and strengths will have been analysed and detailed meticulously. He knows all of our players inside out which has to be of advantage to him. Like McGuinness, he works on percentages and Rory will endeavour to make all possession count while at the same time being disciplined in defence.
In the Ulster semi-final, Fermanagh were able to nullify Conor McManus, the Hughes brothers and Jack McCarron. His problem with the Donegal team may be that we have too many players to control. Jamie Brennan, Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Hugh McFadden, Frank McGlynn, Eoin Ban Gallagher, Leo McLoone, Paddy McGrath and Odhran Mac Niallais will all have to be contained. This is well over half the Donegal team.
The absence is Neil McGee is a concern but we still have ample cover given that Declan Bonner has blooded many of the new young rising talents in the league to contend with such a loss as McGee. Caolan Ward and Stephen McMenamin have really impressed me this season. The Donegal players who I didn’t mention may well turn out to be the stars on the day because they, too, are extremely talented. My only worry is that we have not been truly tested in the Ulster championship to date. Fermanagh have. They had a really tough encounter with Monaghan in their last outing which will stand to them. The team is very well coached and very aware tactically. I was delighted that they beat Monaghan as I’m sure was the rest of Ulster. And yes, I’d love to see them win the Ulster title but not at the expense of my county, Donegal.
Declan Bonner and his assistant Paul McGonagle have ploughed this furrow before as players and also in their management capacity. We must give these guys full credit too. They will be very aware of Rory Gallagher’s tactics and Fermanagh’s strengths and weaknesses. They will have learned a lot from Monaghan’s demise to Fermanagh. They, too, are tactically astute. There are a lot of head games being played by Fermanagh in the lead up to this final. It was reported that Donegal journalists were apparently refused permission to a Fermanagh press conference last week. Fermanagh have denied this. It’s all part of the game. Declan Bonner will ignore such rumours and so-called psychological warfare. We know and Bonner knows that this game will be won on the pitch of play in Clones. He will have our lads’ feet firmly planted on the ground. It won’t be a pretty game. Donegal will need to be patient and use their experience and more abundant talent to outplay their opponents. I can only see a Donegal victory. Respect our opponents, keep the heads and keep the faith.
Tir Conaill Abu!