Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dún na nGall Left With Much to Ponder

Another defeat for Donegal and just like last year the team are facing into a final day shoot out hoping to avoid relegation. Right from the start of this campaign Jim McGuinness’ focus has been on Tyrone in May and what happened before then mattered little. However the manner of the defeats to Cork last week and Mayo today have raised a lot of questions and some of those will need to be answered against Dublin in a fortnights time.

The team’s passing, particularly in the final third, was again very disappointing as it was in Pairc Ui Rinn last week. Bursting out from the back isn’t a problem, the team are so in tune with each other and know how to create overlaps and knit passing patterns together in order to turn defence into attack. They are struggling to find their forwards though and therefore are not scoring heavily. The ball going in isn’t favouring the attackers and Mark McHugh in particular epitomised the wayward distribution today with some terrible passes.

A fourth defeat of the campaign wont do much harm psychologically as it reminds the players that the core values of work ethic, honesty, effort and concentration that reaped such dividends last year must be maintained to have a chance of more success. Decision making today looked on the lazy, lethargic side and against a Mayo team with a point to prove that was never going to be good enough.

The home side and their supporters were well up for today’s game and they’ll be delighted to get one over on their All-Ireland conquerors. They have learned some tricks from that day in September too - it was interesting to see them having players run across Colm McFadden’s line of vision as he took his frees.

They also learned their lesson as regards marking duties with Michael Murphy well marshalled today, often by more than one defender. Last year this ploy was employed by most teams and Colm McFadden was the one who benefited due to the extra space. Teams are now trying to double up on both Murphy and McFadden, a risky tactic in a sense but if Donegal’s other players don’t step up to the plate then it’s one that can work. Others did get on the score sheet today but no one consistently offered help to the two main men up front with even Patrick McBrearty, fresh from a stunning midweek display for the U21s, looking a little off colour.

Towering midfielder Barry Moran was given the man of the match award and he had a huge influence on proceedings today. He caught numerous kick outs and as a result was the launch pad for many of his side’s attacks. What was frustrating from a Donegal perspective was that Paul Durcan kept hitting his kick outs down on top of Moran. It’s a basic enough tenet of football that if a midfielder is dominating then you try to keep the ball away from him. Granted Neil Gallagher was marking him and that’s who Durcan looks for on most of his kick outs but with Moran in such form it would have been better to try to find Rory Kavanagh.

Neil McGee hobbled off early in the second half and his importance to the team was illustrated in his absence. The defensive shape all but disappeared without the Gweedore man at full back and with regular centre back Karl Lacey also missing these days, there was a lack of solidity in the Donegal rearguard.

Donegal received a third major setback soon after; following the injury to McGee and Michael Conroy’s goal, Anthony Thompson was shown the line after he received his second booking. Marty Duffy issued plenty of yellow cards today and it was clear early on that there wouldn’t be thirty players left on the field at the end such was the booking rate. A lot will be made of the fact that its Donegal’s third double yellow red card this year and maybe the reputation they have gained as a systematic fouling team is starting to have an effect on referees. Its another thing that will have to be looked at by the management.

Indeed the team are giving away quite a number of scoreable frees, something which didn’t happen last year. Think of the big games last year - Colm Cooper, Bryan Sheehan, the O’Connors, Donncha and Cillian - all free takers with their respective teams but none of them scored too much against Donegal. Today Mayo’s O’Connor ended up with five points, four of them from placed balls.

Its not all doom and gloom of course and the McGuinness mantra of May 26th has to be kept in mind also. Colm McFadden is improving with every outing and today looked the sharpest he’s been this year so far. An incident at the end of the game highlighted another positive - the players hate losing and want to get back to where they were last year. An off the ball altercation involving Mark McHugh and Donal Vaughan led to a few players getting tangled up with the usual shouldering and pushing and shoving; but it was the normally mild mannered Frank McGlynn who got really riled up and he wasn’t going to let any of his team-mates be pushed around. He was worked up and it shows that there’s still plenty of fire in the bellies of these players. They’ll need to show that and more if they are to beat the Dubs and the drop when they welcome the table toppers to Ballybofey in two weeks time.

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