MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Donegal’s fitness levels played a part in Meath win

Why do the GAA introduce rule changes for one competition, yet play other competitions under old rules?

MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Donegal’s fitness levels played a part in Meath win

For those who braved the harsh weather of last weekend and made their way to MacCumhaill Park to watch Donegal take on visitors Meath would not have been disappointed with their evening.

With the pitch bordering on being playable and just getting the go ahead an hour before throw-in, very few, if any, would have been expecting the open end-to-end encounter that took place. Donegal started well but it wasn’t long until Meath found their range. Both sides were guilty of some poor shooting early on, players on both sides choosing to shoot when others were in better positions or when they had little or no time to get their shot away.

Meath were excellent coming forward from the back and finding it easy to break down the Donegal defence. Their half-back-line of James McEntee, Donal Keogan and Niall Kane asked plenty of questions of the Donegal back line. Only for some timely interventions by the very impressive Brendan McCole at full-back and St Eunans pair Conor Morrison and Caolan Ward, Donegal could have found themselves further behind at half-time.

Meath were kept waiting after the half-time break by Donegal but it didn’t seem to break their rhythm. They continued to go at Donegal with midfielder Shane McEntee dictating the pace for Meath and with about 15 minutes to go and four points adrift, Donegal were struggling to get to grips with the movement and pace of the Meath forward line.

Declan Bonner had made a number of changes which certainly helped Donegal settle. Leo McLoone’s presence settled Donegal down; he slowed the game when it suited and set up a number of scores to keep Donegal in touch with the Leinster side.

The goal came with about 12 minutes to go and while it was a bit fortunate, great credit has to go to Caolan McGonagle for following in and not giving up the chase. Indeed, it has to be said the workrate and fitness levels shown by the Donegal squad was excellent, and while many will point to the goal as the turning point, Donegal certainly looked the fitter in the last 15 minutes.

Meath had a chance to grab an equaliser but missed an easy chance. Donegal as a team will play better. The three lads I mentioned earlier were excellent at the back; Eoghan Bán Gallagher cut holes in the Meath defence when he got the chance to run at them; Hugh McFadden, had his usual workmanlike performance. Up front Niall O’Donnell and Ciaran Thompson kicked some great scores and worked their socks off; inside Marty O’Reilly started the game well and there was plenty of movement between himself and Jamie Brennan but they got little change off Conor McGill and Seamus Lavin, who were excellent for Meath.

It’s four points in the bag and with next Sunday’s opponents Tipperary struggling to get their season going, the Donegal management will expect to pick up another two points on Sunday.

Meath had too much for Tipperary on the opening day of the national league and they had to kick a point in injury time to snatch a draw against Fermanagh in Semple stadium last Sunday. Interesting that in the wake of falling attendances in the football leagues, the official attendance was put at 667 seven paying patrons, a worrying trend.

Listening to an interview given by Dublin manager Jim Gavin left very few in doubt about his opinion on the introduction of the new rules. While he was diplomatic in saying that he would always leave the rules and the running of the games up to the administrators and county boards, he would not be changing his training schedule or game plans to combat or improvise for the new rules.

When quizzed why, he suggested it was a bit of a waste considering that many of his players were playing college football under the old rules; they were also playing club football under the old rules and would be playing the championship later in the year under the old rules, so what was the point in changing their routine and only confusing the players in the process.

It begs the question why, when the GAA make such rule changes, that they are not changed for all levels of the game and not just for the intercounty game? It’s can’t be easy for referees who officiate for club games, college games and the intercounty games, not to get confused and make errors. It makes little sense, no other sporting organisations would change their rules without making the change throughout all levels, making it universal.

Is it any wonder there are complaints from many quarters about club players being treated differently than county players? Why is it that club games only last for 60 minutes and county games 70; in soccer or rugby, regardless of the level, the length of time of the game is the same; the rules are the same. Surely it should be the same for Gaelic games.