Outside of All-Ireland semi-finals or finals, I doubt if there was ever a game that has attracted the attention that Sunday’s clash between Donegal and Tyrone has created.
Ever since the fixtures for the group stages of the Super 8s came out, this game has always been the one that both sets of players, managers and supporters had been looking forward to. This was the one that would determine whether an All-Ireland semi-final was going to be part of this season’s plan.
Everything that has happened up until Sunday will mean nothing; whether or not Donegal hammered Roscommon or whether Tyrone gave Dublin a run for their money will have no bearing on what will happen when Joe McQuillan throws the ball in at 3.30 on Sunday.
Ever since Tyrone were sent packing by Monaghan in the first round of the Ulster championship they have been going through the stages to get to this position. They progressed slowly, maybe lucky at times, especially in their encounter away to Meath. But they got there and in every game they have shown improvement. Maybe the games week after week have got them to this place or maybe they just needed a bit of time to get players back to full fitness and playing at the level they needed to be at to get them into contention for this year’s All Ireland.
Tyrone were hurt badly after the criticism levelled at them after their defeat by Dublin in last year’s championship. Now, to be fair, they’re used to being on the wrong end of many of the experts. Maybe they thrive on it; maybe it’s the ‘us against the world scenario’ that gets the best out of the Tyrone lads.
Donegal, on the other hand, have blazed through the Ulster championship, putting up big scores along the way and embracing a new style of football that is easier on the eye than many of the defensive game plans that we all have become accustomed to over the years.
Fast flowing play, with support for the man on the ball and plenty of scores coming from every position on the field. We saw a bit of a defensive plan against Dublin in Croke Park, but it was important not to open up too much and get a bit of a lesson that may affect the confidence for the remainder of the Super 8s.
While home advantage is definitely a plus, it will count for nothing if Donegal allow Tyrone to set the pace and intensity of the game early on. I don’t expect either side to be offensive in the first half; it will be cagey. Both sides will look for the weaknesses in the other; they will keep their back lines tight making sure not to give away any goal chances and time will be scarce in front of goals with defences scrambling to make sure limited opportunity are given to either side.
Both sides go into the game nursing players with injuries, Tyrone have lost a few and of course Patrick McBrearty is gone for Donegal. But Donegal have improved since last year’s battering in the Ulster championship and whether it’s enough to get them into this year’s All-Ireland semi-final only time will tell. But there is a new found confidence within this group, the players look hungry and seem to be embracing the challenges as they come. I expect it to be close with only a few points either way. Hopefully, the sun will be still shining on the hills after Sunday.
LIAM MILLER CHARITY MATCH
The Liam Miller Charity Match saga has finally been sorted out. It created a lot of talk from different areas in communities throughout the country. Everyone had their say especially on social media. The GAA got battered all over the place. Many would suggest it was of their own making; that could be true. However, the GAA community is made up of a lot more than those that represent us in Croke Park. Thankfully, the right thing was done by letting the game go ahead in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Some interesting points came through while the debate soured; like those who suggested why should we give our pitches to those sporting organisations that we are in direct competition with. What people need to realise, especially in rural Ireland, that sporting clubs have to work together in order to survive. The same players play all sorts of codes and, like me, see nothing wrong with that. When Ireland were doing well in the European championships a few years ago, did we all not support them?
When Donegal were in All-Ireland finals, did not every part of the community support them? Of course they did. For to long in this country the past has been used to subdue the future. Yes, we must acknowledge the wrongs of the past and remember those who have suffered. However, we will also have to move forward. We are too small a country for such small mindedness on all sides.
Many people made some foolish statements in the middle of the debate. Hopefully, they will consider their words more carefully in the future.
As for the GAA, hopefully they will have learned from the last eight weeks and not be as quick to pull the trigger in the future without considering the consequences.