Thursday, January 10, 2013
Here We Go Again
Matches at this time of year are always a bit unusual, no one knows quite what to expect performance-wise; results are by and large meaningless as Donegal’s whitewash in last year’s McKenna Cup testifies. A freezing Wednesday night in Brewster Park is as far removed from Croke Park in September as you can imagine but that’s where the Donegal faithful pitched up last night. Every journey has to start somewhere and of course we’re all hoping that this year’s will end in nine months time again.
With the team only touching down on Irish soil on Tuesday after their Dubai sojourn this was always going to be a bit of a strange and rushed affair. So rushed indeed that two of Donegal’s players, Michael Boyle and Shane McGowan, had to make do with the 2011 kit that we last wore against Dublin in the All-Ireland Semi-Final as their 2012/13 equivalents had gone AWOL!
Stranger still but hugely satisfying was the fact that for only the second time ever we were treated to a Donegal team being given a guard of honour in their season opener as they made their way onto the field.
Amongst them were several debutants, eight of which saw their first action in a senior jersey; Kevin McFadden and substitute Caolan Ward along with panel returnee McGowan putting in the most noteworthy displays of the youngsters.
Last year’s panellists appeared that bit sharper than the newcomers despite the schedule of holidaying and celebrating they’ve had of late; indeed it’s a good omen for the rest of the first team that players like Daniel McLaughlin, Gary McFadden and Thomas McKinley weren’t found wanting physically against a Fermanagh team that have been back training for the past 7-8 weeks. Jim will put the boys through their paces over the next month and hopefully it will be a case of topping up to reach the extraordinary levels of fitness attained last year.
Maxi Curran directed operations from the sideline last night, with the majority of the matchday squad being plucked from his U21 panel. Jim and Rory watched on from the stand as part of a 1,500 strong crowd.
Fermanagh hit the front early and wouldn’t leave that position although it was hard to know at times such was the density of the fog that suffocated Brewster Park. The latest score had to be announced over the loudspeaker in each half, the scoreboard practically invisible through the fog in one corner of the field to the vast majority of patrons seated in the John Vesty Stand.
The game from a Donegal perspective was essentially a short passing, tight affair; with the fog making visibility difficult this was understandable. Also, with so many new players in action, its natural for players to take the safe option of a quick hand pass in order to retain possession instead of being more expansive. Despite the low-key nature of the fixture, pulling on a county jersey for the first time is the biggest game of some lad’s lives and their mindsets are somewhere in between making a name for themselves and not making mistakes.
Without either of the twin towers of Michael Murphy or Colm McFadden on the field, Donegal generally try and carry the ball into the forward line but in the second half when they did go that bit more direct they got their rewards with the goals from Adrian Hanlon and Brick Molloy.
The hosts though for the most part had an effective defensive screen and their superior, more advanced early season conditioning allowing them to funnel back and then immediately break in numbers. McLaughlin and Copper McFadden kept running and probing though and eventually found some gaps with the Glenswilly man finishing with three well taken scores from play.
Copper is one of those who would be hoping to kick on and get to the next level in 2013; this time last year there were plenty in the same boat and players such as Neil Gallagher, Eamonn McGee and Paddy McGrath climbed another rung or two on the performance ladder and were soon undroppable fixtures in the team. Others now include Brick Molloy, Patrick McBreaty, Leo McLoone and Marty Boyle – they can all push for a higher level of performance and if Jim can get that extra 10% out of some his players hopes will be high of another successful Summer.
Before all that though we continue with our Winter programme and its back at base in MacCumhaill Park on Sunday where Monaghan are the visitors.