Shambles. Embarrassing. Flat. Stale. Capitulation.
All these words and more have been used to describe what happened at Markievicz Park and in scrutinising the game on its own they’re pretty accurate.
The year as a whole also has to be looked at though and while it may seem that the team is hurtling towards rock bottom, there are some signs for hope.
None of these signs are based on what we saw on Saturday obviously.
The lack of intensity, particularly in defence, was the most striking take away from the match. Tomas O’Se mentioned during The Sunday Game, that there was no divilment or menace in Donegal’s defending and he was spot on.
The opening goal was a case in point. Sean Armstrong collected the ball in the corner with Kieran Gillespie for company. Armstrong showed strength and power to work his way in along the end-line and a couple of hand passes later the ball was in the net. In years gone by, with a spiteful Donegal defence at its peak, the Galway forward would have been unceremoniously hauled down or else would have been put out over the line.
Donegal, as they have had in most games in the Championship, had plenty of bodies back but most were chasing shadows, marking space, not effecting the play. A blanket defence is meant to suffocate the opposition; when it’s not utilised correctly it is useless.
While Gaelic Football has changed almost irrevocably in the last decade there's only so much it can change - the pitch is still the same size and the number of players on the field hasn't changed. And old adages remain too – if you’re not up for it and your opponent is, there’s only going to be one winner.
There has been much talk about how Rory Gallagher has gone about changing Donegal’s style of play. There have been tweaks but nothing radical. The team, as was abundantly evident in Sligo, are more open than before but the large numbers behind the ball remain. So that is not a change of tactic but rather a change of attitude or more pertinently – a lack of experience.
Our players don’t yet have the know-how or the competency to play with the manic aggression needed at this level. They also don’t yet have the physicality. The important word here is yet. We’ve seen these players at underage level, there is talent there but when moving from underage to senior that talent is only potential. It takes time to nurture and develop it.
The main tweak Rory has made to the team’s shape is that he has committed more men to the middle third and sacrificed a player or two at either end of the field. As a result, Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee at one end and Paddy McBrearty at the other are at times isolated.
As the conditioning of the debutants introduced this year improves over the winter the gaps between midfield and either end of the pitch will reduce.
Management must become more definitive in their gameplan though. Panic substitutions have been the order of the day in both big reversals this summer, while at other times, against Antrim for example, the team’s defence has started without a sweeper before one has been introduced.
If Donegal are to be a compact, aggressive defensive team then fine. If they are to be a bit more expansive and pacey then fine. But the objective must be clear.
While all these aspects in relation to the younger players can and will improve, there is one component that will be difficult to alter and will be the biggest task facing Gallagher and his management team – expectation.
As a county, Donegal has not recovered from double whammy of All-Ireland Final day in 2014. Between the senior and minor matches that day, a large number of the current squad were involved and on the big days since they’ve got to know even better that greatest of imposters, defeat.
Two Senior Ulster Finals, a Minor All-Ireland Semi-Final and an U21 All-Ireland Semi-Final have all seen opportunities passed up in bringing silverware to the Hills.
Granted underage Ulster titles have been annexed in amongst all those and they’re the reason why there is still optimism that the likes of Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Jason McGee and Ciaran Thompson can grow into top level inter-county operators.
Saturday was reminiscent of that awful September day three years ago because the general feeling going in on both occasions was that Donegal would win. Drawing Galway was seen as favourable and there was an outside chance of reaching the last four. Whatever about supporters getting carried away and looking ahead players have to focus on the game in front of them. It’s the tough reality but that’s how it works.
Perhaps the most distressing part of Saturday’s loss was the sense of déjà vu. For many years in a time before Jim, we went along to games in trepidation because anything was possible – and not in a good way. Anything often meant heavy beatings.
Those days were often defined by ill-discipline and as each black card was brandished at the weekend, it felt like we were going back in time.
No one wants to go back and for now it’s best to look forward. All we can hope for is that in years to come we can look back on 2017 as a year that formed many of these players’ characters and where lessons were learned.
Jim used to say ‘every day is a school day’ and we’ve had a fair few of late.