Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dún na nGall Clear First Hurdle

A case of job done in Breffni today - an accomplished, professional display from Jim McGuinness’ charges in a game we never looked like losing. Cavan came out of the blocks quickly but it was inevitable that Donegal’s pace, power and strength would be too much for them and by half time the contest was finished.
Even without the difference in fitness and physical levels, Donegal simply had the better footballers.

This time last year, RTE infamously struggled to pick a man of the match from the preliminary round clash with Antrim such was the poor fare on show; today it was difficult to pick one standout such was the high quality of performances from several men in green and gold.

Frank McGlynn played at half-back today following a reshuffle before throw in which saw Declan Walsh make his Championship debut at corner back and Leo McLoone getting a run in the forwards - and all three impressed. McGlynn was outstanding, hoovering up plenty ball and playing high up the field.

Leo picked up where he left off in the league, bringing the promising form he showed then into his new half forward role today. He poses a formidable obstacle to a defender carrying the ball forward but along with his strength he has great footballing ability, illustrated by two fine scores from play.

Leo was pushed further forward alongside Colm McFadden in the second half and he again excelled while also proving to be a nuisance to Cavan goalkeeper James Reilly when he attempted any quick restarts. McGuinness of course used McLoone in a roving full forward role with the U21s, he and Michael Murphy alternating in many of the games in that Championship run two years ago.

The national media this week were still talking about Kevin Cassidy’s absence but the performances of McGlynn and McLoone today showed that maybe they should take a look at the footballers we have in the Donegal panel rather than looking back.

Cavan boss Terry Hyland tried to mimic his counterpart in the other dugout by pulling men back behind the ball but McGuinness simply told his men to follow their markers and this gave McGlynn, along with Karl Lacey and Anthony Thompson, licence to push up the field. The home side seemed to confuse themselves with this tactic and Donegal took full advantage, gaining a lot of possession from short kick outs.

Another Cavan tactic, in naming players out of position in an attempt to flummox Jim, didn’t really work either. In 2009, Antrim named somewhat of a dummy team and then at throw-in their players switched positions and it certainly unsettled Donegal that day and contributed to the Saffron’s shock win at MacCumhaill Park. Cavan tried a similar ploy today with forwards Ronan Flanagan and Robert Maloney-Derham named at corner back and half back respectively. Such a trick is never going to catch out a manager as astute as Jim McGuinness and again it didn’t really help Cavan and may only have served to take their focus away from the field of play.

No such trouble with Donegal in the first half though with the pace of our attacks a real feature of the match. Without Michael absent today the forward unit changed shape and there was very little long ball played into Patrick McBrearty and McFadden. Instead pinpoint ball was played in front of the forward duo and they dished off possession to the runners coming onto the ball. It was encouraging to see McBrearty in particular doing well in this role; though he didn’t manage to register a score himself, his all round effort was crucial. He had his fingerprints on many of his team’s scores today through winning so much first phase possession in the lead up to points, as well as winning the penalty.

Cavan couldn’t live with the speed of the runners from deep and the visitors chalked up plenty of scores throughout the day via this tactic just as they did against Armagh in the last league outing.

Mark McHugh gave a master class in how to play the modern half forward role; as usual he was the designated sweeper and played this role to a tee. He also got forward whenever he could and ended up with two points from play. The Kilcar man is liable to show up anywhere on the field such is his fitness and conditioning.

The midfield duo of Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher both delivered big performances, and they had to coming up against Cavan‘s impressive young duo of Gearoid McKiernan and David Givney. Centurion Kavanagh notched three points from play and Neil got on the end of a move in the second half as well to get his name on the score sheet.

Paddy McGrath gave a super display from corner back but much of his good work came in Cavan’s half of the field as he raided forward with purpose throughout. His style of running, in particular how he runs across any potential tackler while he’s soloing, makes him very hard to stop and he wins plenty of frees from this - vital in giving his fellow defenders a breather after working hard to dispossess an opponent.

Many say the provincial Championships aren’t all that important anymore but the fillip of winning back to back titles will spur this side on in Ulster this year. Preparation and focus is still key; the management team certainly weren’t taking this game lightly and as they did last year, took up residence in the Slieve Russell Hotel on Saturday night.

Not quite as glamorous for the minors however, they were spotted stopping off for some bargain purchases from Aldi before they headed for home! They can certainly be proud of their efforts today as well, a huge win for Stephen Friel’s side over the reigning provincial champions. Minor championships are almost impossible to predict and indeed Cavan would have been fancied to win but today showed anything is possible.

Its back to Ballybofey for the next day out, a Saturday evening clash with Derry. The Oak Leaf county are still smarting over their defeat in last year’s decider so a huge battle is to be expected. They should have the Bradleys back in tow which will make it a tough assignment for The Messiah but no doubt he’ll already be formulating a plan to get us over the next hurdle.

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