MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey - bigger than Croke Park
Imagine if a league table was produced after two rounds of the Allianz National Football League, 1 to 32, Leitrim would be top of the pops, four league points and a score difference of +17.
And who would be bottom of the list - Tyrone with no points and a score difference of -13.
Donegal are pitched in sixth place.
But overall, the league is again proving to be the real barometer of intercounty football, with all divisions very competitive.
Donegal had a large slice of luck in Ballybofey against Meath and moved top of Division Two. There are some interesting statistics after just two games. Four teams are unbeaten. Half of the eight games have ended all square. Every team has at least one point on the board, while the three Munster teams are (Tipperary, Cork and Clare) are propping up the table with one point each.
Donegal travel to Thurles this weekend to take on Tipperary, their first meeting since 2010. And by my reckoning, of the travelling Donegal panel, only Leo McLoone has the experience of playing at Semple Stadium.
But if there was a good time to take on Tipperary, then now is the time as they are badly hit by injuries and Evan Comerford was added to the injured list after last weekend’s draw with Fermanagh. Already out injured long term are their star player full-forward Michael Quinlivan as well as Robbie Kiely, Bill Maher, Cian O’Connell, Paudie Feehan, Paul Maher and Luke Boland.
Donegal have only played Tipperary on four occasions in the league, the first in 1980 in Fr Tierney Park, Ballyshannon when a certain Martin McHugh made his debut. Their two other wins have been in Thurles, while the only reverse was in 1981 in a game played at Emly.
Donegal travelled to Tipperary as All-Ireland champions in early 1993. The last meeting, the aforementioned 2010 clash.
Apart from the 1-15 to 0-5 win in Ballyshannon in 1980, there has never been more than three points between the teams and Donegal’s last win in 2010 was by the minimum, 1-9 to 2-5.
Saturday night last was not one of Donegal’s best performances, but supporters have to be patient. We are just two games into the league season and while we have struggled at times, there are some green shoots too. I won’t be surprised if Stephen McMenamin gets a start next Sunday, such was his composure when introduced on Saturday night, while Brendan McCole has put two steady performances back-to-back at full-back.
Sunday gives all of the newcomers another chance to stake a permanent claim.
It’s good to see Leo McLoone is closing in on 100 games for Donegal. Sunday will be his 99th, joining Paddy McGrath. Could both of them play their 100th game when Donegal play Fermanagh in Letterkenny on February 24?
Wide open spaces . . . .
After some Interesting facts produced by Irish Times journalist Malachy Clerkin on GAA pitch sizes, the well trotted out line of the ‘wide open spaces of Croke Park’ may not carry as much clout as it seemed to have.
Clerkin’s stats show that there are a handful of pitches that not alone match Croke Park for size - 145m by 88m, but are two metres wider (145 x 90m)
And MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey is one of them.
Among the others are Casement Park, Belfast; Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon; O’Connor Park, Tullamore; Pearse Stadium, Galway; Markievicz Park, Sligo and Cusack Park, Ennis.
Among the surprising results are - Pairc Esler, Newry (137.8 x 80.7); McHale Park, Castlebar (137 x 182) while St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge is at bottom of list at 135 x 80.
Kilkenny or Nowhere!
Have you heard the one about the Donegal supporter who organised a soccer trip to Bristol last weekend; got diverted because of frost and snow and ended up in Kilkenny, listening to the Donegal-Meath game on radio?
Former Bundoran man O’Reilly is, like Kildare, sticking to his story. He says he told the group that he wanted them to re-route to Letterkenny, but they took him up wrong and ended in hurling country!
But there is a good ending. He will be back on the road to Thurles this weekend.