HARTE OF THE MATTER: The era of the underdog

Can Donegal follow the lead of Croatia in Croke Park on Saturday night?

Jimmy Harte


Jimmy Harte


Harte of the Matter

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton closes down on Donegal's Patrick McBrearty early in the Allianz Div. 1 league game in Croke Park. Photo Thomas Gallagher

“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.” - Malcom Gladwell

This weekend sees Donegal take on All Ireland champions Dublin, a tough game for us but we can take the surprising example of World Cup finalists Croatia and cause a surprise of our own.

It’s been a summer of high sporting drama with both GAA and soccer providing endless excitement and enjoyable games.

During the season, these circles have often overlapped nicely with Michael Murphy pulling off a Zidane-esque roulette move in the Ulster Championship semi final where Donegal took Down apart.

We have a unique relationship within soccer in our county which goes back as far as the emigration of young men to Scotland after the turn of the last century, and when many of these “tattie howkers” returned to Ireland they brought a fresh side to the playing of GAA. Many fine Donegal soccer players also had their roots in GAA.  

SEE ALSO: Manus Boyle's look ahead to this weekend's action

If Donegal win on Sunday I think they will be well placed to win the All Ireland as they have the players and the skill. Recent performances suggest that good days might be ahead for Donegal.

Mind you, the domination of Dublin is a huge hurdle for every team in Ireland at the minute.  The opportunity for Donegal to put a stop to Dublin's dominance might be in the Donegal players’ minds. I think they will have the country's backing to topple the Dubs.

There has been talk of dividing Dublin into two, so other counties can get a better chance but I can't see Dublin supporters or officials backing this proposal. The Dubs are struggling even to consider giving up their home advantage in the new Super 8s format.

 Watching the World Cup I began to think, in hope maybe, that contemporary sport is entering an era of the underdog.  Looking at Croatia’s win over our neighbours England, a country with a population similar to Ireland, it shows that it can be achieved no matter what population you have.

They are not only the smallest country to qualify for a World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950 but also the lowest ranked team ever to do so. Throughout the tournament this pattern was evident. Iceland, with a population of around 300,000 drew with Argentina made up of around 43 million, including one of the greatest players of all time.

Spain, Germany, Italy and even Brazil, by their standards, have all fallen short this year.  (I couldn’t tell whether England were an underdog or masqueraded as one in order to give themselves something to celebrate.)

The mind boggles at the thought of smaller countries dominating World football but it shows that dreams can be achieved by small nations to give small countries hope and fans the chance to be at the top for even a short time.

I’d like to feel that the day is coming when a weak team like say Sligo (pop. 19,000) can achieve success in the All Ireland championship so we will have a championship for all teams instead of your Dublins (pop. 520,000).

Rosary beads - Croatia manager, Zlatko Dalic

What I'm saying is that no county should exclude themselves. This World Cup has shown that anything is possible. Donegal isn’t necessarily an underdog, thanks in part to Jim McGuinness and their 2012 success, but it should give Donegal fans a little more faith against the juggernaut of Dublin this weekend.

The Croatian manager recently claimed "When a man loses any hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith”.

Zlatko Dalic shared that he always carries a rosary with him. “When I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier.”  

With the Dubs recently clinging onto their home advantage maybe they know that the era of the underdog in GAA could be closer than we think.