THE SPORTING DIARY: Miserable day in Castlebar; spare a thought for Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn

Some got out early and were back home before others got out of the car parks around MacHale Park.

It was not an evening for standing around in Castlebar. Donegal failed to spark and Mayo took full advantage of everything that was going - the conditions, a lenient referee and a Donegal side that produced their worst performance of the year.

Mayo, on the other hand, produced their best and they also more or less bullied Donegal, especially in the opening half. Indeed, they should have been out of sight at half-time if they had taken their chances.

Donegal started without Neil McGee, and how they missed his physical presence on Saturday evening. While we don’t know if there was an injury, Frank McGlynn was not used as a substitute for the first time this year - and you felt that McGlynn’s experience in the closing quarter could have had an influence.

In that final quarter Donegal had their chances but for the first time this year they lacked composure when it was needed most.

The absence of McGee and McGlynn was a huge loss at that stage. Could they have made a difference?

It will be a huge learning experience for the younger brigade, and it was telling to listen to captain Michael Murphy in his after-match interview. Despite the huge disappointment of losing out on making the All-Ireland semi-final for a second year-in-a-row, Murphy was talking about learning from the defeat and being more ready for that type of physical battle in the summer of 2020.

But the question will be asked: Will Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn be around for the 2020 battle? Both were more than willing to stick around this year with McGlynn playing an important substitute role. Will he do it for another year? It was the burning question for many this week. It will be his decision and while I would hope that he does stay and continues to impart his knowledge to the younger brigade, you could understand if he calls it a day. Remember last year in the final game of the Super 8s he was substituted in the final quarter and Donegal fell apart. This time he wasn’t introduced.

Neil McGee is in a similar situation. He has given a big part of his life to Donegal football and yet he seemed to enjoy 2019 as if he were a teenager. Last year he had a long run with Gaoth Dobhair but still came back to play an important part for Donegal. Don’t rule him out of staying on for another year.

It could be argued that because they did not reach the last four that the Donegal season was a failure. Yet in other ways they have made progress. The unfortunate loss of Kieran Gillespie at the end of last year and Eoghan Bán Gallagher after the Ulster final plus the absence of Odhrán Mac Niallais were factors; a spate of injuries came at the wrong time, and it was obvious on Saturday last that some Donegal players were not at their best.

The scheduling of the Super 8s is punishing if you are hit by injuries at the wrong time. The scheduling of the entire championship has to be looked at and all teams need to be given a level playing field.

At the moment Dublin and Kerry have it so easy in their provinces that they can tailor their training for the month of July. Donegal and Ulster teams have a choice to make; go all out for the Ulster title and a passage to the Super 8s, or go through the Qualifier route.

The Qualifier route has worked out well for Tyrone and Mayo, although the latter were a tad lucky to have made the Super 8s, such was their form in early rounds. Both of those teams have lost twice in championship football yet are still in the All-Ireland semi-finals!

Donegal have to go away and lick their wounds. They did a lot of things right in 2019 and that should not be forgotten. Up until last Saturday they produced attacking football of a high standard and they must build on that.

They will have to strengthen their panel and the younger players will have to take another step up the physical ladder.

It is a travesty that Michael Murphy does not get a chance to lead out his side in an All-Ireland semi-final and it has nothing to do with the effort put in by the Glenswilly man, who, it could be argued, had his best ever year in a Donegal jersey. He has led them back to Division One and to a fifth Ulster title. If he doesn’t get an All-Star this year then the awards should be scrapped.

You could go through the side and point to many positives during the year, but I will just mention two players who have taken huge steps. Shaun Patton has been a revelation and can become one of the truly great goalkeepers. We have been blessed down the years in Donegal with our custodians and Patton gets better with every game.

The other player who I get excited about is Stephen McMenamin. I have been singing his praises for some time now and he seems to improve game after game. He really stood up on Saturday last in the hostile atmosphere of MacHale Park; he has the physicality to be a huge player for the county and while he may have to watch the temperament at times, he has been well trained by Neil McGee.

DEMOCRAT CUP

Hats off to Kilcar after they lifted the Democrat Cup and the Division One league title on Sunday with three games to spare. That they have gone through the league unbeaten and without their county contingent for most of that campaign is testament to their quality.

It was their 14th Democrat Cup success which elevates them to the top of the pile in the county, one ahead of Gaoth Dobhair.

There is a club championship to look forward to and Gaoth Dobhair will be fired up to keep their title while this Kilcar team, with McBrearty back, will have their sights set on the double.

It should keep us occupied after Donegal’s exit from the All-Ireland championship.