The curtain came down on Donegal’s somewhat successful season last Sunday in a packed McCumhaill Park. Donegal’s fans, players and supporters have been mulling over Donegal’s performance for almost a week now, on what could have been for our lads. What I saw, was a group of Donegal players who ran themselves into the ground and gave everything for the green and gold of their county. Our players looked dead on their feet in the last ten minutes when Tyrone dominated the game.
It could be so easy to be critical about certain players, the referee, our tactics, our fitness and so on. Let’s take off the blinkers for a while. The game was always going to be a close affair. Donegal got the first major breakthrough just before half-time after the Tyrone goalkeeper erred with a short kick out. And yes, it was terrific work by Ryan McHugh to intercept and wonderful to watch Michael Murphy rifle the ball in the roof of the Tyrone net.
Donegal went in at half-time with a three-point lead. We went four points up after the break. Then Tyrone introduced Lee Brennan. This guy has had injury problems for a while but he is a talented forward and has been registering high scores in club games in Tyrone for a couple of seasons. He turned the game on its head. He weaved and danced through a tiring Donegal defence to bring Tyrone back into the mix. Mickey Harte introduced Kieran McGeary along with Brennan. Harry Loughran came on for Tyrone after 48 minutes. Ten minutes later he had the ball in the back of the Donegal net which was the crucial turning point of the game. Tyrone’s five subs scored 2-5 between them.
I thought that Tyrone were physically stronger than we were. I also believe that they were much cuter and that their decision making on the ball was better than ours. These attributes will come with time for Donegal. Our youngsters will get stronger and wiser. Experience only comes with time.
Some of more mature players may well surrender to the high demands of modern day football. We have a terrific squad there and Declan Bonner has done wonders with them. It’s never easy losing in the championship, particularly to our neighbours Tyrone. We will learn from this disappointment and will carry these memories into the next game when the two counties cross swords.
For now, it’s Tyrone’s time to have the bragging rights which they earned in Ballybofey last Sunday. They will again be ours in the near future. That’s how the game goes. It’s easy to forget that Donegal are Ulster champions. This cannot be lost on anyone. We also won the McKenna Cup. To any GAA fan, this is deemed a successful season. If we were offered an Ulster championship title and a place in the championship melting pot last January, we would have gladly taken it. So, we shouldn’t despair. We should applaud Declan Bonner and his team for providing us with great entertainment right through the summer.
For Tyrone, they will face an altogether different challenge in Croke Park this Sunday when they take on Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Farney men have been very impressive in every game since their shock defeat to Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final.
Unlike Donegal, Monaghan will match Tyrone physically and will be as cute as them in every aspect of the game. I’ve always admired Mickey Harte’s tactics and I’m sure that he will have something up his sleeve for his Monaghan neighbours on Sunday. Tyrone, despite notching up an impressive 2-17 against Donegal, will have difficulty in repeating this feat against a much more experienced Monaghan defence. Monaghan have a few key forwards too, namely Conor McManus who will prove a major thorn in the Tyrone defence. There was a time when McManus was Monaghan’s sole threat up front but, not anymore. They now have a range of players capable to getting scores. Monaghan also have a strong bench which is crucial in these games that are tight as we saw with Tyrone when their substitutes ran riot against Donegal. Strength in depth is the key in the modern game.
Monaghan and Tyrone know each other very well and again this game be a tactical affair. I can see this game going into extra-time. I believe that both teams are very similar in their approach. I also believe that the referee will have a major influence on the match. When games come down to fine margins, the officials need to be decisive. It’s an unenviable task for our referees nowadays. There’s so much going on all over the pitch that is impossible for him to take note of everything. Linesmen and umpires need to impose themselves with more authority to help out the man in the middle. All county grounds should have ‘hawk eye’ installed. And like the rugby, the watching public should be allowed to hear the communications between the officials when decisions are being discussed. We deserve clarity and uniformity.
Irrespective of the outcome of the game on Sunday, the champions in wait are Dublin. They play Galway on Saturday evening who seem to be regressing. I’d love to see Tyrone or Monaghan beating Dublin because the game needs a change. I don’t think it will be anytime soon.
But for now, we’ll keep the faith!