MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Start to the new Super 8s something of a damp squib

Saturday evening fixtures in Croke Park very unfair to Donegal supporters travelling home

MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Start to the new Super 8s something of a damp squib

Were the advertising section of the GAA were a bit off the mark when they named the new football format as the Super 8s? There was very little ‘super’ about any of the football played last weekend, especially on Saturday evening.

Tyrone ran riot against a Roscommon side that seemed to be caught in the headlights and had no answer for the strong aggressive running the Red Hand side that have went about their business since their early exit from the Ulster championship at the hands of Monaghan.

There was something surreal about the Donegal-Dublin game. It seemed to lack the intensity that you would expect at this time of the year. Maybe the fact that players and managers on both sides know that they have another couple of matches to play in the next few weeks lessens the risk of players going over the edge when tackling and seeking possession of the ball. It took a bit of time for Donegal to settle but when they did they looked comfortable going forward but did leave a lot of holes in defence. There is a fine line between getting into that attacking transition and keeping enough bodies in defence to protect against conceding goals.

At the end of the night it was the concession of the two goals that cost us. However, it has to be said that we were fortunate not to concede further goals as Dublin had loads of chances and it’s something Declan Bonner and his management team will be looking at before next Saturday evening.

To be fair Donegal didn’t play badly and were always there or thereabouts. However, I do think Dublin have a few more levels to reach before they are at their best. They travel to Tyrone next weekend in what will certainly be a stern test not just because they have to play outside of Croke Park but also because Tyrone are going well at the minute and if they can upset the Dubs in Omagh and pick up the two points, it leaves them in prime position to go through to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Donegal’s mission is somewhat different. They are expected to beat Roscommon. However, after Roscommon’s humiliation in Croke Park last Saturday night, I would expect the Roscommon management and players to come out fighting, especially in their own backyard.

The way the fixtures are constructed certainly does not favour Donegal, However, it is what it is and hopefully those in charge in Croke Park will take a closer look on how the fixtures are scheduled for next year’s championship.

Depending how the players came through last weekend’s game with injuries and fatigue, Donegal at full strength still should have enough to beat the Connacht champions of 2017. There will be nothing easy but knowing if you don’t win your championship for 2018 is over will increase the intensity and desire on both sides to go all out and win the game.

Declan Bonner will hope that the experience of playing against an accomplished side like Dublin will help the younger lads in the next few weeks. Winning the Ulster championship was a great result but the measure of opposition was not what was needed in preparation for the latter stages of the championship. Even Dublin’s performance suffered as a result of not having a real competitive match in winning the Leinster championship.

One thing that will certainly be worked on this week will be Donegal’s kick-out strategy. Dublin pushed up on Donegal throughout the game and Donegal struggled to get possession. At the other end of the field when Donegal pushed up on the Dubs, Stephen Cluxton found one of his own. We conceded scores from poor kick-outs and probably were lucky not to concede a couple of goals from them. It’s not all down to the goalkeeper because the movement and the options that Dublin players presented to Cluxton was not there for Shaun Patton in the Donegal goal. As possession is vital it’s important that we get this facet of our game right for the visit to Roscommon as they will come out and go at us like scalded cats.

Just going back to the game last Saturday evening; what was Dublin’s reluctance to attack Donegal in the last six or seven minutes about. They were content to keep the ball; the instruction seemed to come from the sideline, whether it was in preparation for their encounter with Tyrone next weekend or whether it was a sling shot at Donegal for doing it to them in 2014.

An interesting point that was made to me last week before any games were played: How does a team in the Super 8s, who have no hope of getting to the semi-finals in the last game, continue to have the same drive and hunger as those that still have a chance? Considering that it could come down to scoring difference, this leaves an unfair advantage to the team that plays the team that are out.

I have always wondered since the Super 8s were brought in, had it been thought out. Considering the fixture cock up with what is neutral for Dublin and what is neutral for everyone else, I have no doubt it wasn’t teased out as much as we were led to believe. While all county teams want to play in Croke Park, the timing of the Donegal game at 7 o’clock in the evening left Donegal supporters late home. Considering the cost of staying in Dublin most supporters who have followed Donegal all year decided to travel home after the game. Those is charge need to take these circumstances into consideration before they make the call on late evening fixtures. Supporters, just as players, are vital to the future of our games. The television companies will leave with the stroke of a pen.

Anyway all roads lead to Roscommon this Saturday. Hopefully the result will leave us with the bit between our teeth for the visit of Tyrone in the first weekend of August.