Monday, August 5, 2013

Donegal Demolished by Rampant Mayo

Well that was just about as dark a day as you’ll get – Donegal were hammered out the gate yesterday by a Mayo side hell bent on ending their All-Ireland hoodoo. Coming into the game, deep down most Donegal supporters felt this was probably a game too far for the team but no-one expected what we witnessed in Croke Park.

Fair play to Mayo, they blew us away and there’s no substitute for sheer bloody mindedness and will to win. They were ravenous from the first whistle to the last and showed their intent with the first goal. When Eamonn McGee was dispossessed it was an easy chance for Kevin McLoughlin to pop the ball over the bar but he smelt blood and instead worked the ball inside to Cillian O’Connor who finished wonderfully past Paul Durcan. Donegal initially did well to work their way back into the game but once the second green flag was raised the game was up.

Durcan’s kickout strategy was a big factor in the early part of the game - time and again in looking for Neil Gallagher he was simply kicking the ball straight down on top of Aidan O’Shea who was majestic. In the same way that Gallagher dominated Cork in last year’s semi final, the Breaffy man towered above all around him and was unplayable. But that begs the question why did we continue to kick the ball to him? It was strange to say the least.

With able runners all around O'Shea, Mayo attacked Donegal in droves and their pace against a heavy-legged green and gold defence led to a rout – we conceded more goals yesterday than we did in the entire championship last year.

In truth Jim and Rory probably knew Donegal weren’t quite there coming into the game and hence all the nonsense coming out of the camp during the week. That was designed to lift the boys and get a bit of bite into their game but they were flat again, just like against Monaghan and had no answer to Mayo’s speed and aggression.

The McGee brothers both looked well off the pace and with Neil being substituted at the break you wonder whether he had picked up an injury during the week – he had a fantastic game in Carrick last Saturday but was a poor imitation of his usual self yesterday.  Eamonn didn’t get anywhere near O’Connor and was then deservedly sent off in the second half for a reckless stamp and his manager didn’t look at all impressed as he trotted off the field.

Paddy McGrath tried his hardest and was doing a great marking job on Andy Moran until he picked up a caution leading to a more subdued second half display. McGrath, along with Michael Murphy and Frank McGlynn kept fighting right until the end but too many players seemed to stop trying.

Despite carrying an injury, Mark McHugh had a good game but his mistake in the build up to the second goal was a real killer. He kept plugging away though and finished with two points from play.

Mayo started emptying their bench soon after the restart but the scores kept coming with Kevin Keane’s point the icing on the cake – he was the man destroyed by Murphy in last year’s final and the management and supporters took particular satisfaction from his point off his left in front of the Hill.

It was tough to watch the game through Donegal eyes but you have to put up with these kinds of days as a GAA supporter. We’ve had plenty of them before of course and last year was obviously so much more special having been in the wilderness for so long before that and having being on the receiving end of beatings a lot more regularly. Some supporters have short memories though and despite these boys having given us some of the greatest days of our lives last year, plenty of the crowd left early and headed for the road or the watering holes of Drumcondra. The team were shockingly poor yesterday but they still deserved to be clapped off the field after all they’ve done for us.

Indeed they’re not quite finished yet - the team will be back next year competing for top honours. They’re still a hugely talented bunch and have the best manager in the game. Jim knows he’ll have to go away and dream it all up again; with so many teams adopting Donegal’s template they will need something different next year. Hopefully with injuries and niggles cleared up and a bit of freshness back in the legs the team will be ready to go again.

Mayo have now dethroned the All-Ireland champions for three years running but looking at Dublin this year should give encouragement to Donegal that they can come back. Despite the horror show and indeed embarrassment that players and supporters alike will feel, the nature of defeat might be a good thing in that the team will be itching to get back to Croke Park and put things right. They will have to live with loss over the winter and it won’t be easy.

After the winter though, spring will swap snow for leaves and it’ll start all over again – McKenna Cup, a Division Two league campaign and then Championship.

We’re All-Ireland Champions for another few weeks before the crown will be passed on and certainly if Mayo can repeat their performance again they will end their sixty-two years of hurt. Best of luck to them and who knows, we might get another crack at them next year. Roll on 2014.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dún na nGall back on track as Mayo lie in wait

Donegal are back in the last eight and while they didn’t go the route they wanted the main thing is they were in the pot for the draw last Saturday night; as Jim said afterwards “we’re back were we would have been minus the cup.” We’re still the holders of the other cup and its up to Mayo now to take it off us. It’ll be a titanic clash, without doubt the tie of the round and one game that everyone will want to see.

Saturday was a typically nervy encounter, a real do-or-die feel to it early on with both teams being ultra-cautious and players desperate not to make mistakes. The downpours that hit Carrick in the hours before throw-in made for a greasy surface and added to the conservative nature of the play in the opening exchanges. This mind set was transferred to the crowd with the tight surroundings making for a claustrophobic cauldron. Carrick was a far from ideal venue as regards traffic, ticketing or ease of access but for atmosphere, a packed house at a small venue makes for a great noise.
It wasn’t just on the field and in the stands where the tension was evident, on the sideline Jim and Rory were up for the battle as well as their set-to with Justin McNulty and Fergal Byron clearly demonstrated – this game meant a lot, this title that Donegal are defending means a lot and they were hurting from the nature of their no-show in the Ulster Final.

The match took quite a while to settle down and the first huge roar from the green and gold contingent was provided by a booming score from the right by Michael Murphy. A few moments earlier he had hit Laois newcomer O’Carroll with a shuddering shoulder as he and his team set the tone for what would be a dogfight for the most part.

Michael had spoken midweek of righting the wrongs from Clones and with so many players needing to atone for abject personal displays, there was a real desire to make a statement. Neil McGee was one such man, coming in for a bit of a roasting against Conor McManus the previous week he was in no mood for a repeat performance. Composed at the back, he also drove forward on numerous occasions capping an excellent display with a surging run and point near the end. Paddy McGrath alongside him in the full back line again was fantastic; the Ardara man just never seems to have a bad game.

McGee’s point came in a closing period where players were happy to take on the posts, with Colm McFadden and substitute Leo McLoone also registering white flags. This was a welcome development as at times the patience the team shows up front can lead to scoring opportunities being neglected. The team has been very economical this year, hitting very few wides but there may be point scoring chances being ignored also. A more progressive shooting policy in the early stages, as well the latter of the game, could serve us well next week as a good start could be crucial against Mayo.

The green and red are still smarting from the early onslaught their Hill 16 goal took in last year’s All-Ireland Final and will be hell-bent on making a quick start this time around; .if they were to fall behind again their minds would inevitably drift back to September. Conversely, Mayo getting ahead early would see Donegal chasing the game and as we saw against Monaghan that’s not an easy task to be faced with, especially for a team who will be playing for the third weekend in succession.

If Murphy’s score was the first big cheer of the day then Anthony Thompson made the Donegal roar reverberate around Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada with his majestic piece of skill in the second half. Following good work from Eamon McGee to dispossess Laois as they attacked, Thompson broke onto the loose ball on the right wing. Aware that he was about to be tackled by a blue jersey, instead of bending his back to pick up the ball he delightfully chipped it into his arms without breaking stride. He kept going up the wing before driving the ball across to McFadden who popped it over the bar. That put Donegal five points up and despite a Laois rally to close to within two they were on their way back to Croke Park.

As the scoreboard ticked over in the closing stages Rory Gallagher turned to the Laois bench and let out a roar of his own, conveying just how much this meant. Donegal were down after the Ulster Final but not out. True it was Laois in Carrick-on-Shannon whereas Mayo at Headquarters will be an entirely different challenge but at least we’re back on track. Next week will require every ounce of character and every fibre of energy to repeat last autumn’s result.

Although it was tough to accept a defeat in the provincial showpiece, in some ways it was great to be back on the road for a qualifier. Before Jim came along this was a road very well-travelled by the Donegal faithful and it brought back some good memories. Of course our last sojourn through the back door ended on that fateful day in South Armagh three years ago. That was a seminal moment in the history of Donegal football – from the dying embers of that day came an All-Ireland winning team. Only time will tell whether or not Carrick can mirror Cross in being a catalyst for something special. If the team can come up with a mammoth performance and win on Sunday next, Carrick will also live long in the memory.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Farney Army Dash Dun na nGall 3-In-A-Row Dreams

The three-in-a-row dream died against a Farney onslaught yesterday but Donegal are still alive in this year’s quest for Sam - going by their display in the provincial showpiece though things need to improve quickly. Its six short days until the back door is bolted shut for another year and the team face a tough task in ensuring they are still at the party come closing time.

There can’t be any complaints about proceedings in Clones; the best team won on the day and there were no ifs, buts or maybes from the defending champions’ perspective. Mark McHugh going off injured was a blow but such was the lethargy and clumsiness on show from his team mates it didn’t make that vital a difference when the game is looked at as a whole.

Two key chinks were exposed in the Donegal armoury yesterday and they have been worries for quite a time - but this was the first time under McGuinness that a team successfully exploited both.

Firstly we were by and large wiped out at centre-field and this had already been a major problem against Tyrone and indeed in some of last year's games. Thankfully Neil Gallagher’s introduction steadied the ship somewhat and only for his efforts things could have been a lot worse. Apart from Gallagher's tour de force against Cork in last year's All Ireland semi, this Donegal side have rarely dominated a team around the middle third and yesterday it was Monaghan who were doing the dominating. Coupled with the midfield platform they created, they then attacked Donegal in a way that few teams have – with direct high ball in on top of our full back line.

Eamon McGee actually mentioned in an interview he gave earlier in the year that he had spent a lot of time doing extra training on high fielding – he and the management team were well aware that this was a potential weakness for the defensive unit and they had tried to correct it. Yet when someone like Kieran Hughes is in the sort of form he showed yesterday sometimes its just near impossible to cope. Hughes had a terrific game in Ballybofey in the McKenna Cup back in January and while that competition was disregarded by Donegal he left his mark that day and did so again with even greater aplomb in the biggest match of his life.

It was so unusual to see both McGee brothers given the run around yesterday; they’ve been the embodiment of this current Donegal team with their strength, power and assurance yet Hughes along with Conor McManus were unmarkable yesterday. How many times over the last couple of years have we seen full-back Neil come storming out from defence to take man, ball and all? It just didn’t happen this time, he was close to McManus on a number of occasions but was never able to get a hand in or shove the Clontibret sharp-shooter off the ball.

The tackling in general by the whole team was lazy. Monaghan players on numerous occasions side-stepped or wrong footed green and gold men with quick movement of the hips or shoulder and they created space easily. The game’s opening score was a case in point with Darren Hughes easily selling a dummy to Karl Lacey to get into a better scoring position. Normally the ferociousness of the Donegal tackle makes teams wilt and that’s why teams hit so many wides against us because they are forced to shoot when they don’t want to. Instead Monaghan took their scores when they were on and were supremely confident in their shot making ability.

Monaghan got the early run on Donegal and the four-point lead they amassed, just like we did in the semi-final, was a crucial cushion. In a game where both sides are setup the same way and both trying to hit on the counter, a deficit like that is extremely hard to claw back. Down only once got inside the three point margin against Donegal in Breffni Park and in Clones yesterday we never got inside that margin at all.

Aside from Gallagher in midfield there weren't too many players who could be happy with their days work. Paul Durcan was excellent in goal, dealing well with almost every high ball that came into his square - and Ryan McHugh was on hand to give him a dig out for the one he didn't manage to claim. The younger McHugh looked very composed when he came on and capped a good cameo with a wonderful score floated over with the outside of his right boot.

Unfortunately such scoring feats were few and far between. Michael Murphy was largely anonymous with Vinny Corey giving an imperious display at full back. He rarely looked at or for the ball, his eyes were firmly fixed on the Glenswilly man-mountain and it made for a frustrating day for the captain. Even when Murphy appeared to be hauled down in the box approaching half-time it was he who was shown a yellow card by the referee, thus infuriating him even further.

His strike partner Colm McFadden had a similar afternoon; twelve months on from shooting over booming scores from all angles in the 2012 decider he was thwarted time and again by Drew Wylie; there wasn't anything too scientific about the man-marking jobs carried out by Wylie or Corey, just good old-fashioned staples of defending - stay tight on your man and keep him on his weaker foot.

Of course everyone is now asking the question, why did this happen? Was it tiredness in the bodies, tiredness in the minds, hype getting to the players – the truth is nobody knows. The squad though are still supremely fit and well conditioned so the physical explanation doesn't really wash. The hype issue and the three-in-a-row thoughts seeping into the player’s mindsets is the most likely reason. Of course with pretty much every one of us having written Monaghan's chances off there was always a chance of that happening. If the treble bid is the reason for defeat then there's still every chance of progressing further in the Championship; however if tired minds are at play then we could be near the end of the 2013 road – we’ll only find out if that is the case next Saturday.

Whatever way you think about or analyse yesterday it wasn't pretty from a Donegal viewpoint - yet we’re still there. We’re not out of the Championship and we are still the defending All-Ireland Champions. The six-day turnaround for beaten provincial finalists is usually the kiss of death for teams but after such a wretched performance it may be beneficial having a game so quickly to try to put things right. Carrick on Shannon holds a special place in the hearts of Donegal Gaels – it was in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada that the county secured a first ever national title, becoming All-Ireland winners at U21 level in 1982.

More recently it was the scene of a young Murphy’s Championship debut in a senior jersey on a night when the then reigning National League Champions needed extra-time to shake off a dogged Leitrim team in a Round 1 qualifier. This weekend could be something similar – it’s all about grinding out a win, nothing more.

All players and managers want to get to Croke Park for the August Bank Holiday weekend because that’s when the Championship starts in earnest. Donegal would have wanted to go there as Ulster Champions but instead that honour is now bestowed upon Monaghan. Its up to McGuinness’ men to earn their place amongst that last eight and if we get there anything is possible.

Jim always maintains that his team competes in two different knockout competitions – the Ulster Championship and the All-Ireland Championship; it’s no different this year except that we’re starting the latter a week earlier. The road is a bit rockier but the journey and destination remain the same.

We've heard so often in interviews with the players about the plans Jim and Rory have laid out for them before each game and the work that goes into preparing them for what the opposition will throw at them. That process was again meticulously followed before the Ulster Final as it will be before Saturday’s crunch encounter with Laois. However once they cross the white line its up to the players to determine the outcome. They were off-colour yesterday, no doubt about that; but these players have given us days of joy that we only dared dream of over the last couple of summers; they will know themselves that they didn't perform yesterday and were well beaten. But they also know they’re still good enough and that they haven’t suddenly become a poorer side - now is the time to back these boys.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dún na nGall Edge Past Dogged Down

Donegal’s drive for three Ulster titles in a row is still on and after a tense affair in Cavan yesterday they booked their place at the provincial finale in four weeks time.

Down set the tone for the game with their tactical strategy, James McCartan determined not to let history repeat itself. In last year’s Ulster Final, Down stayed with Donegal for the first half before being blown out of the water - yesterday they were going to stay with them right until the end.

The Mourne Men set themselves up the same way Tyrone did in last year’s semi final and made life very difficult for the Champions. It was just what this Donegal team needed though; a tight, tough, tense encounter and while not playing at their best - indeed not being allowed to play at their best - they still came through and that’s the mark of a team who know how to win matches.

Most games are decided in the closing stages but in truth the first fourteen minutes settled this contest. With Down’s red and black bus parked at the town end of Breffni Park they were setup to defend a lead and look for scraps on the break, going 0-4 behind at this stage of the game though signalled trouble. They fought brilliantly throughout and McCartan and his players deserve huge credit but they never looked like finding enough scores to get over the line.

In the first half Down tried to attack through the middle when they may have been better off using the wings where there was more space. They did get back to within two points by the half time break but that was as close as they got. After the break, they used the wide areas more before bursting inside at angles and got some joy with Donegal forced to give away a number of frees. Every time though they got within striking distance, the men in green and gold mustered a point from somewhere. One key moment in the last quarter could have turned things but once Eamon McGee collected a Down free off the upright the Ulster Final was in sight – if that had been converted it was a one point game.

McGee alongside his brother Neil and Ardara’s Paddy McGrath were outstanding in the full back line. In today’s game positions around the middle don’t really mean a lot – half forwards, midfielders and half backs all do a similar job and have to work in a scrum of bodies everyday they take to the field. The other lines though have more individuality about them and that trio in the last line of defence were immense.

So too the inside line. Right now our full forward line is the best in the business and they proved their worth in spades yesterday. Patrick McBrearty worked tirelessly throughout and despite being under the weather, which resulted in a visit to a local dentist on Saturday night, he played his part in the victory, the highlight for him a beautiful point from play in the first half.

Colm McFadden was the star of the show and the win rounded off a very special week for him following the birth of his son Matthew (Jimmy’s nephew) on Wednesday night. When the game was growing tenser by the second it was the Creeslough man who stood up and boomed over two towering long range points to keep Down at bay.

Captain Michael Murphy came to the fore as well finishing the day with 0-5, four of those coming from frees. His last free, which sealed the win, was a massive 60 yard effort and it had plenty to spare as it sailed over the same crossbar which caused him so much grief three years ago in the U21 Final. Murphy gets a bit of stick for not contributing more from play on the scoreboard but there aren’t many players in the country who could nail such a mammoth kick.

Ryan McHugh made his Championship debut yesterday and despite reservations about the strength of McGuinness’ squad the substitutes again played their part with Marty Reilly and Martin McElhinney showing well once more.

McHugh was assigned a man-marking brief on Conor Laverty, just as he had been in the league match earlier this year in Ballybofey. Laverty had caused a lot of problems in the first half; his low centre of gravity allied to his balance and sharpness make him a difficult opponent and indeed an early challenge on him resulted in a yellow card for the elder McGee. His threat certainly waned though once McHugh got to grips with him.

Despite the good performance of McElhinney after his introduction, midfield was again a worry. Tyrone were on top in the middle third for long periods of the quarter final and with strong displays from Kalum King, Ambrose Rogers and Kevin McKernan yesterday Donegal were under the cosh again. It was clear after half-time that Paul Durcan used the short kick out a lot more in order to provide primary possession for his team-mates. Its obviously something the management are working on - Maxi Curran could be seen recording all of yesterday’s kick outs and these will no doubt be analysed forensically in the coming weeks.

Ryan’s brother Mark as usual treaded every blade of grass on the field of play and after an injury ravaged league he seems to be getting back to his best. Injuries, or hopefully the lack of them, as we go through the year are going to have a major impact on Donegal’s season. Without two starters yesterday, Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher, the team lost two more by half time with Ryan Bradley and Frank McGlynn succumbing to concussion. Club Championship action this weekend has the potential to add more bodies to the treatment table so it will be a huge positive if Jim and Rory can get everyone to Clones on the 21st fit and well.

Down will feel they let the game slip due to the fact they had Donegal within striking distance but couldn’t provide a killer blow. They didn’t actually have that many chances though and often seemed reluctant to shoot. A hallmark of the McGuinness tenure is the economy that his side shows in front of the posts – it’s very unusual to see a Donegal player take on a low percentage chance - they remain patient and wait for the right opportunity. Down on the other hand rushed a lot of their shots and played quite a number into the grateful hands of Durcan.

The absence of both Lacey and McGlynn left a distinct lack of pace in the half back line and against such a packed defence this can lead to slow ball and therefore more time for the defensive wall to regroup and get set. Donegal suffered from this in the now infamous semi-final defeat to Dublin in 2011 and it was shown up again yesterday.

Early on, Donegal counteracted Down’s deep lying blanket by pushing up on them and employing a high line pressing game that Mayo have used to good effect in their last two games. If anything though they committed too many men forward and cluttered things up even more for themselves. This led to poor, impatient passing and Down forced numerous turnovers. As the half went on, Donegal retreated to cope with the attacking threat which belatedly came from their opponents. After having too many bodies forward they then left the ball carrier isolated on a few occasions; Leo McLoone in particular found himself high and dry as he moved into a full forward role at the end of the first half. This is out of character for this team and unfortunately we also saw glimpses of it the league defeats to Cork and Mayo.

As for the game itself as a whole, some have described it as a tense, engrossing affair while others are lamenting the lack of flair and space. So far Championship 2013 analysis has been dominated by the lack of competitiveness and the gap between the haves and the have nots. You cant have it both ways and surely a gripping contest with a grandstand finish beats a one-sided stroll any day.

Either way Donegal or indeed Down won't care too much about the quality of the game - they both know the result. The latter head to the qualifiers in good fettle and with a good chance of making Croke Park in August - for the double Ulster Champions it's all about Clones in a month’s time and making it a treble.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Defiant Donegal Dismiss Tyrone

“Everything that happens to you in your life helps make you what you are today. Your past is your future.”

They were words uttered by Jim McGuinness last August – not that long ago but the thought process behind it seemed to have been lost in many people’s eyes in the build up to yesterdays totemic clash. Tyrone were the new kids on the block, the heir apparent to Donegal’s Ulster throne, primed for a raid on Ballybofey after an impressive league campaign and armed with an exciting array of new talent in their squad. One problem though – the recent past shows that Donegal are the best team in the country and after this display the future looks like mirroring that.

The Ulster Council’s decision to stage the game at MacCumhaill Park was rewarded with a feverish atmosphere and there’s a lot to be said in general for GAA matches being played in smaller venues with packed crowds. The old venue hadn’t seen a day like this in quite a while, probably going back to the Armagh game in 2007. The length of the traffic tailback approaching Stranorlar from the Letterkenny side has always been a good barometer over the years of the importance attached to a game. You’d always get a clear run in for McKenna cup games in January and even a league game wouldn’t be too bad as you were entranced by the sight of the giant floodlights in the distance. Yesterday though was blockbuster time, even before the minor game had thrown in there was a half a mile tailback approaching the T-junction before the twin towns and cars lining the road well before MacCumhaill Park came into view. It wasn’t quite knockout football but neither team could contemplate defeat.

Last year Mickey Harte felt his team weren’t good enough to take Donegal on and win, that was evident before throw in when Ryan McMenamin went straight to the edge of the square to take station as a sweeper (in his newspaper column last week he described his role that day as a defensive sweeper and at no time was he to push forward). This time around neither team played with an out and out sweeper to begin with, instead taking each other on in a deep lying counter attacking game of strategy.

As expected it was blood and thunder stuff from the outset, the ferocity of the shouldering on view was fantastic to see, none more so than the shuddering impact Stephen O'Neill felt when trying to level Neil McGee. The Tyrone sharp-shooter got a good run at McGee as he was about to lay off a hand pass and hit him with all he could muster but he just bounced off Donegal's full-back, who barely flinched.

Paddy McGrath was another who was flying into tackles and put his body on the line time and again. Paddy is a bit of an unsung hero on this team, going about his work in an unfussy manner; he was again magnificent yesterday, both in his defensive duties and in carrying the ball forward.

Tyrone took a while to find their feet but when they did they bossed the middle third and the hosts found primary possession hard to come by. In the last ten minutes or so of the opening half, Michael Murphy came out from his full forward position to try to stop the Red Hand momentum and it immediately paid dividends. With his team struggling to win possession, the captain steadied the ship and his positioning out the field proved even more advantageous as his long free into Paddy McBrearty led to Colm McFadden finding the net.
It wasn’t until the final league game that we saw signs of last year’s form coming back to McFadden but he led the line well yesterday in a composed display. He was outshone though by Kilcar’s McBrearty who brought real form into this game on the back of his U21 and club exploits and he had a huge bearing on the outcome. His neat touch down to McFadden was the mark of a class player and he showed his speed and skill to set up Ross Wherity for the second major later in the game.

The Donegal side-line was a busy place all afternoon; Rory Gallagher seems to put in as much running as the players on days like this with constant instructions being relayed to the troops. After everyone’s pre-match suspicions over the non-availability of Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey from the start were confirmed, Frank McGlynn was next to go and the strength of the panel was going to have its severest test. Many have questioned the quality in reserve but yesterday was hugely encouraging in that regard with Wherity, Martin McElhinney and Marty Reilly all making their mark when introduced while Lacey’s replacement Declan Walsh had a super game.

As always with McGuinness’ Donegal, the psychology of the game was vital. While it was widely anticipated that neither Lacey nor McHugh would start, the challenge was knowing when to introduce them. Lacey was warming up pretty much once the ball was thrown in and when he finally took off his jumper to reveal his No 6 jersey, Niall Morgan was just about to address the ball before another free. The stand in MacCumhaill Park erupted on seeing the Footballer of the Year and Morgan again fluffed his lines.

The Edendork youngster had a torrid afternoon. Hailed as the key difference as to why Tyrone had made up sufficient ground on Donegal after suffering two straight Ulster Championship defeats, he converted only one placed ball from six attempts and with every wide more confidence was drained out of the entire Red Hand team. Morgan didn’t help himself with his antics to the crowd after his sole score; no doubt he’s a confident young lad but he rubbed many of the home support up the wrong way and by the end of the game jubilant Donegal supporters took delight in ushering him forward to take the kicks; by the end he just stayed put.
Donegal felt they could put him under pressure and as with Enda Varley in last year’s decider there were blockers in front of the place kicker with Murphy running off to the side in his eye-line on one occasion just as the kick was to be struck.

The key moment of proceedings was the second goal and it made it a magical day for Ross Wherity. The Eunans man got quite a bit of game time in the national league and looked a good prospect for nailing a place as a key panel member. He missed a hatful of goal chances during that Division One campaign but he certainly picked his moment yesterday, finding the net with a deft touch from McBrearty’s cross.

The stats show Tyrone had plenty of chances, a lot of them ending in wides, but as with both the previous games in 2011 and 2012 many of these were kicked under pressure and weren’t gimmies by any manner of means. Donegal’s pressure cooker defence got to boiling point in the second half, keeping their opponents scoreless for thirty-two minutes.
While the visitors had bossed the midfield battle for a large part of the first half, they struggled there in the second and despite often having a free man on his own kick-outs Morgan continued to go long.

Morgan and many of his team-mates wilted under the strain placed on them in the second half; the Donnellys, Mark and Matthew, had impressive league campaigns but neither were able to stamp their authority on the game aside from that middle period in the opening half.

Even seasoned campaigners like Sean Cavanagh found the going tough and Tyrone lost all discipline and focus in the last quarter. Cavanagh was superbly marshalled by Eamon McGee for the seventy minutes as the Gaoth Dobhair man kept up his excellent form from the autumn. He was constantly in the Moy man’s ear as the verbals from both sets of players continued throughout the game.
Every free that was won, every kick missed, every score was re-inforced by letting the other side know what had just happened – it’s a side of the game these days that many don’t like but it just conveyed the ferocious intensity between both sets of players. It might not look like it at times but there does seem to be a genuine respect between the teams; Tyrone are the benchmark for Donegal, they won three All-Irelands and are quite rightly regarded as one of the great teams. That is the target for Donegal under McGuinness – greatness.

It was a procession for the home side late on with ‘Championes’ and ‘Jimmy's Winning Matches’ both getting renditions from the boisterous crowd by the banks of the Finn. It was a performance of character by Donegal yesterday, a real statement of intent.
Tyrone received most pundits’ nod for this game in what appeared a changing of the guard type prediction; this Donegal side though are relatively fresh, only entering their third campaign under McGuinness. He obviously feels there’s more to come from them and that he can find more in his players. Rory Kavanagh, another who had a fine game yesterday, spoke recently of not having played much football in his career to date. Even at 30, one of the elder statesmen of the panel, he believes there’s plenty more in him.

These are a hungry bunch of lads with a manager who can extract every last ounce of desire and ability in them; he can get the best out of them and he can get something out of them that they might not even know is there within themselves.

Analysts are using conventional wisdom to view this Donegal side but the last two years have shown us that Jim is anything but conventional – he’s a unique and special talent on the side-line.

A team with poor league form like Donegal’s against a team with hugely impressive form shouldn’t win so comprehensively – but they did. A team coming off a humiliating qualifier defeat in Crossmaglen shouldn’t win the All-Ireland two years later – but they did. Back to back All-Irelands are virtually impossible in the modern era so it shouldn’t happen – but it might.

Can Donegal break the mould? We’ll have to wait and see. If a team does beat us this year they will certainly have earned it and right now we remain the team to beat. Derry or Down will be next to try in four weeks time.