THE SPORTING DIARY: Donegal have a gap to bridge to top four

THE SPORTING DIARY: Donegal have a gap to bridge to top four

It has been a great journey for Donegal this summer with plenty of positives, but Sunday was a learning experience as regards where we are in the order of things.

Based on Sunday’s experience, we are a little short of the top four, but the gap has closed from last year. In the 2017 Ulster semi-final Tyrone won pulling up. On Sunday, they were made fight all the way and the final goal put a flattering look on the scoreboard.

But there can be little argument either but that they were the better side on the day and of the 20 players they used, they got a much better return.

Donegal will have to go away and lick their wounds and Sunday should give them a fair idea of the targets they need to reach if they are to bridge the gap in 2019.

At present they are just too reliant on a handful of players and the opposition know that if they target these players, then Donegal can be overcome.

Without going into names, we all know our strengths, and in a game such as that against Tyrone on Sunday, the shortcomings are also brought to the surface.

The return from the championship (five wins from seven games) makes pretty healthy reading, but once you put yourself in a position to reach the semi-final, it has to be disappointing for all involved, after giving everything that you have in the jersey over a period of three months.

Everybody has their own ‘take’ on what could be improved, or who could have been introduced instead of the subs used. That discussion also raised the issue of players who were not included in the 26 for the game. But while we can all make observations, it is only those at the coalface who can make those decisions, and they are made on the basis of what is happening in training.

One area that can be worked on for next year is getting the best team on the field for the final 15/20 minutes. Donegal had a problem in closing out games in the National League (it probably cost them their Division One status), and the league must be used to get this right in 2019.

One player who looked extremely disappointed as they trooped from the dressing rooms after the game on Sunday was Frank McGlynn. He has been such a loyal servant to Donegal and has been so consistent this summer. Hopefully, he will stay on for another year and my hope would be that he would be one of the players that Donegal might have on the field in the final quarter, as he remains one of the best players with ball in hand that we have seen in the Donegal jersey.

There will be a need also to give other young players their chance next year. Jamie Brennan has improved immeasurably and can make further strides; Michael Langan can put on a bit of bulk, but has so much talent; Eoghan Bán Gallagher has had a fantastic season, while Stephen McMenamin will be better for the experience gained. Niall O’Donnell certainly has the talent and will be expected to step up next year.

Cian Mulligan wasn’t in the 26 on Sunday, but he showed back in the opening games that he has something to offer and must be given a chance; Daire Ó Baoill, Stephen McBrearty, Tony McClenaghan, Brendan McCole, Caolan McGonagle and Conor Morrison are all in the panel and need to put their hand up.

There is a case for getting Jason McGee back in the fold, while some of the U-20s such as Peadar Mogan will also be in the frame. Eoin McHugh will be back in contention.

Hopefully, Patrick McBrearty will be back fully fit for the spring. There will always be the ‘what if’ we had the Kilcar man for Sunday last.

While the defeat was a disappointing end to the season, getting to the Super 8s, winning an Ulster title and a Dr. McKenna Cup is not to be sniffed at. Marking our season, it was probably a 7 out of 10. If we can show the same improvement in 2019, we will be closer to the top four.

WOMEN’S WEEK

It was a great week for Irish women’s sport. All the spotlight was on the Irish hockey team who became the first Irish team to reach a World Cup final and they did so in some style, with a smile on their face.

There was an even better performance from Katie-George Dunlevy and her pilot Eve McChrystal in the UCI 2018 Para-cycling Road World Championships in Italy, when they retained their world titles in the Time Trial and Road Race. Dunlevy, whose father, John, is a proud Mountcharles man, has now won World gold on the double after winning Olympic gold in Rio.