A second defeat in a week for Donegal but there wont be too many alarm bells ringing. Rather than disappointment or worry, the main vibe in the air after yesterday’s game was respect and admiration for an excellent performance from an emerging Roscommon team.
They started as they meant to go on, running powerfully at the hosts and giving an exhibition in point taking from distance.
Donegal had no answer early on. The home side looked lethargic and off the pace which was in complete contrast to the opposition.
Coming into the game on a three game winning run, the men jointly managed by Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay, brought verve and a buccaneering spirit to their play.
The direct style of running caused numerous problems for Donegal, with players penalised time and again by referee Padraig Hughes. Perhaps after last week’s messing in Tralee, the man in the middle was intent on having an incident-free afternoon and there was barely a tackle of note from either side at O’Donnell Park.
The free-taking from Ciaran Murtagh and Fintan Cregg along with the accuracy of others from play saw them surge clear in the opening half and the spread of scorers they had was an important facet of their victory. They generally tried to attack down the centre before popping off passes to either side; it didn’t seem to matter which player was on the end of these moves as point and after point landed over Peter Boyle’s crossbar.
In similar situations, Donegal usually try to find the likes of Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty or Odhran MacNiallais to get shots away and it is a great credit to O’Donnell and McStay that they are coaching such potency in their ranks. Some of their long range scores were outstanding.
Roscommon also managed, on several occasions, to get inside the area between the Donegal 21 and 45 metre lines – very few teams have managed to get in there with such regularity during one match. The cordon of players acting as doormen along the 45 were unusually generous to guests in the absence of head bouncer, Hugh McFadden, a late withdrawal before throw in. The Kilybegs man was sorely missed around that crucial area of the field he usually patrols, where he offers such security and assuredness.
Rory Gallagher was quick to make changes on the line in an effort to stem the tide. He took off both Anthony Thompson and Eamon McGee, two stalwarts of the famed Donegal defence. While they were being treated to somewhat of a roasting by their direct opponents, it was more likely a case of isolated poor displays from each rather than any seminal watershed moment signalling their respective declines.
Rory instructed his players to push up on the Roscommon kick out from the off but Donegal struggled in this aspect and often there was a man in blue free to receive possession from goalkeeper Geoffrey Claffey.
At the other end, net minder Boyle utilised the short kick-out much more than in previous games, particularly in the first quarter but with a sluggish defence in front of him, Donegal rarely made much headway. Roscommon were quick to get to grips with the short option and a long kick-out lottery ensued.
One major positive did emerge despite defeat and that was the return of the evergreen Karl Lacey. Getting more game time than was probably planned due to Eamonn Doherty’s blood injury and McGee’s early withdrawal, Lacey looked as if he had never been away. Playing his first game for Donegal since the Mayo defeat in August, he showed that while the boots may have changed from white to orange, the class still remains.
Mark McHugh also made his seasonal bow and to have two All Stars back in the fray gives even more depth to an already competitive panel.
Lacey and McHugh helped shore up the defence to a certain extent following their introductions but with Roscommon happy to sit back in the second period and play on the counter, they did pick off some easy scores.
Donegal made a valiant effort at a comeback, with Murphy dragging what he could from himself and his team-mates, almost inspiring an amazing comeback. The Glenswilly giant upped his game straight from the second half throw up, literally, as he grabbed onto two Roscommon men allowing Rory Kavanagh to take a clean catch.
There was a moment of worry shortly after as Michael went to ground clutching his leg and his participation seemed in doubt. Thankfully it turned out to be a likely dead leg and two fabulous points soon after confirmed he was still up for the fight.
As has happened in most league games thus far, Murph spent most of his time at midfield. His brace of scores illustrated the benefit of this as he was able to time his run coming from halfway, claim possession with a bit of steam built up and stroke the ball over between the posts.
When he moved closer to goal towards the end of the game, he was wrestled and manhandled to the ground, which in fairness to the defenders in question is just about all you can do. The resulting free at the end did allow the large crowd in attendance to see as clean and as powerful a strike as they ever will; Murphy managed to beat the seven players on the goal-line but unfortunately not the crossbar.
Donegal needed a goal to arrive much earlier and when they got to within two points there seemed a real chance of a win. Almost immediately however, that prospect evaporated with the needless double yellow offences from MacNiallais and a breakaway Roscommon goal putting an end to the contest.
It was a difficult afternoon for Gallagher and his backroom team on the sideline. So many decisions were right but also had a robbing Peter to pay Paul feel to them.
Paddy McBrearty came out to half forward in the second half to add his elusiveness and skill to the effort of breaking down the visiting defence. That though did mean that his movement and ball-winning ability was sacrificed inside and almost all of Donegal’s scores were sourced from deep rather than from any penetrating ball delivered to the full forward line.
With Michael posted at midfield, Neil Gallagher was used as a target man in the forward line when his fetching ability was also needed for the aerial battle that Donegal were forced to engage in around the middle third.
There’s certainly plenty to ponder for the management team but as Jim used to say, every day is a school day. There will be plenty of lessons learnt after two the recent losses with two stern examinations to follow.
Dublin and Monaghan provide the opposition in the remaining fixtures with the results destined to determine the final result - either mid-table respectability or a semi-final berth.