Monday, March 27, 2017

A Point a Piece in Ballyshannon Battle

Donegal only have themselves to blame after seeing a three point lead evaporate with Conor McManus’ coolly taken stoppage-time penalty in Fr Tierney Park yesterday.

The home team were in control for most of the second half, repelling the Farney attacks with relative ease while giving the umpire with the white flag enough to do at the other end.

The breeze played a big part in proceedings, as it usually does at the venue perched high above Ballyshannon below. Both team’s shooting was erratic with neither able to judge the wind with any degree of confidence.

Even taking the elements into consideration, there was no excuse for some of the poor striking technique on show. Donegal’s first half waywardness was in stark contrast to the economical nature of the returns garnered last week by the banks of The Finn.

Micheal Carroll’s early goal set the hosts on their way and it was a vital score to have in the bank such was the amount of subsequent chances squandered during the remainder of the half.

Carroll's effort and work rate off the ball has been encouraging in the games so far but in most games his finishing has let him down; he made no mistake this time, drilling the ball under Rory Beggan despite being fouled as he struck the ball.

Michael Murphy has mucked in at midfield alongside Carroll, doing plenty of selfless work but he was back in the familiar role of chief scorer. The big man finished up with 0-7 which included three delightful scores from play, his first from open country in 2017.

Monaghan didn’t let the early goal concession affect them though and with Jack McCarron on song they didn’t take long to wrestle the lead from their familiar foes.

McCarron gained the upper hand on Neil McGee and with the Gaoth Dobhair man picking up a yellow card before half-time a change was needed. McGee’s clubmate Ciaran Gillespie was introduced for his first taste of league action this year and made a terrific impact. He’s a tigerish defender, mad to attack the ball and now that he appears to be over his recent hamstring trouble, could prove to be an important player over the summer months.

Another man making his return from injury was Paddy McBrearty and he was gleefully greeted by the 6,000+ crowd on his introduction in the second half. This was the Kilcar sharpshooter’s first appearance since coming off with a groin problem in Hyde Park and he made up for lost time, stroking over two fine points.

McBrearty initially played quite deep which didn’t help the Donegal attack as it allowed Monaghan to push out and clog up the middle of the pitch. Time and again runners were turned over, with Eoin McHugh in particular losing possession several times. When McBrearty moved closer to goal he took a couple of defenders with him and Donegal built a decent lead in this period which should have been enough to see them home.

With McCarron’s influence waning and Paddy McGrath keeping tabs on McManus, the two league points looked a safe bet.

Holding a three point margin, Donegal became a wee bit lackadaisical in their shooting. A few shots drifted to the wrong sides of the uprights, many of them lazy efforts lacking in conviction.

There was nothing absent from McManus’ penalty, awarded following a Martin McElhinney foul on Kieran Hughes. Out of nowhere, Monaghan suddenly secured a point they scarcely merited. It meant Donegal GAA ended the week on somewhat of a downer following brilliant senior and U21 wins over Tyrone.

By that stage, the team had lost Ryan McHugh to an ankle problem and it’s unlikely he’ll be seeing any action in Castlebar next week. Once he’s fit and well for June, that’s all that matters. McHugh had a frustrating afternoon getting constantly dragged and fouled off the ball; he’s probably getting used to it at this stage but it still doesn’t make it any less infuriating.

McHugh was the second player carried off after a worrying incident early on when Ryan McAnespie collided with Hugh McFadden. McAnespie was taken to hospital with suspected concussion.

The wellbeing of sporting stars in the North West has been brought into sharp focus this week of course. There was an uneasy hush around Lansdowne Road on Friday night as the medics treated Seamus Coleman and the messages of goodwill that he has received since shows his standing in the game. Captain, leader and legend.

At the complete other end of the spectrum of tragedy was the passing of Derry’s Ryan McBride. A young man in the prime of his life taken away.

It makes no sense. Life often doesn’t.

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