We can have no complaints. Mayo were simply too good for Donegal in Castlebar last Saturday evening. I had an uneasy feeling about Donegal’s prospects as the rain teemed down early in the afternoon and continued on and off as the players took to the pitch. The signs were ominous but the conditions aren’t any excuse for our below par performance on the evening.
It’s fine saying and knowing that we have a better team than Mayo. We didn’t on Saturday evening and that’s what matters. We always knew that our opponents would play at close quarters and that they wouldn’t concede an inch. We failed in those tight exchanges and misfired up front.
Games like these can hinge on a particular moment and I could cite a few of these. Mayo scored a fortuitous goal out of nothing while Donegal should really have had a goal but for brilliant defending by Mayo. But in all reality, Mayo should have been out of sight at the break. We seemed to lack hunger and drive.
Mayo were desperate to win this game and their feisty display was testimony to this. Rumours were rife all week in the lead up to the game that Patrick McBrearty wouldn’t play, that Paddy McGrath was struggling with a calf injury, that Neil McGee pulled up at training and even Michael Murphy was a doubt at a stage. Only McGee’s injury proved correct.
I’m still in shock about the result to be perfectly honest. It was a very disappointing performance overall but none of us are in a position to criticise our terrific team given that this is the first game that they have lost all season. Mayo were defeated twice in the championship but yet find themselves in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin this Saturday. It’s how the system works and we cannot blame Mayo for this.
The Super 8s certainly needs to be reviewed. The two games played on Sunday between Dublin and Tyrone and Roscommon against Cork were dead rubbers. These were glorified challenge games which doesn’t help anyone except the GAA’s balance sheet. That said the GAA have to be given credit for trying something new when they introduced the new format last year. There simply aren’t enough teams of similar ability to make the Super 8s an authentic formula.
To lose a provincial championship match now is of no real consequence because there’s a second chance through the ‘back-door’ system. Then there’s the question about games being played at different times. Why aren’t both games from Groups 1 and 2 played simultaneously? Dublin and Tyrone were able to dictate who they played in the semi-finals given that they knew the results from the previous evening’s games. Does TV rights have anything to do with this?
It was a sad day when the GAA signed up to Sky because it is the latter who seem to dictate the times of games. While Croke Park stands as one of the premier arenas in Europe, the same cannot be said of some of the other grounds around the country. The majority of the 27,000 fans in Castlebar had to sit on rain soaked concrete slabs last Saturday evening. I believe that the supporters deserve better.
And so, the show moves on to that great stadium in Dublin this weekend. Mayo have a daunting challenge when they face current All-Ireland champions Dublin while Kerry will take on Tyrone the next day.
For me, as a Donegal follower, the punch has been taken out of the championship following our defeat. Whatever about the structure of the championship, it wouldn’t matter one iota to Dublin. Even if this team had to play all of their games in Timbuktu, a selection of 15 players from the other Super 8 teams wouldn’t beat them.
For Mayo, it will be damage limitation on Saturday evening. I wish I could say different because like the rest of the country I’d love to see this Mayo team win an All-Ireland title. The other game between Tyrone and Kerry will be a close affair and I feel that Tyrone will prevail here. The Ulster outfit have a knack of doing well through the ‘back-door’ system and improve as the championship progresses.
All in all, Donegal had a terrific year and we have to thank Declan Bonner and his players for giving us such joy and entertainment all season. If we are disappointed, then spare a thought for our heroic players who sacrificed so much for the cause.
It seems unfair that we find ourselves dumped out of the competition while Mayo are still there. Yet, we knew what was at stake and it was unfortunate how things worked out. As stated earlier, we can have no complaints about the result.
These players are still young and have so much to offer in the future. They will grow from this hardest of defeats in the months and years to come. They owe us nothing and should hold their heads high. Expectations from both the players and supporters are much greater now than in the time that I played for Donegal.
In the two years under Declan Bonner’s management, we have won consecutive Ulster titles. This is a tremendous achievement in itself. So, we need to cherish these young lads and be grateful for making our summer one to remember.