THE WORST THING that Rory Gallagher and Donegal could do is to tear up the blueprint and start again.
It’s bound to have been hard to lift themselves from the embers of the Ulster final loss to Tyrone, but this group is experienced enough to rise from the disappointment and get back in the saddle again.
The Ulster final shouldn’t be bearing too heavily on Donegal.
It seems to have been forgotten in the outcry since that Donegal were leading that game deep into injury time.
Picture caption: Eoin Cadigan, Cork, and Martin McElhinney, Donegal, during a GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 4B media event in Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Tyrone were the better side, but only marginally. Donegal were in a position where they could have won that game.
Donegal had clearly detailed Tyrone pair Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh as two guys that they weren’t to allow have a shot.[adrotate group=”68″]
Harte landed a late score that was just impossible. It was outrageous and one of those points for the ages. It was a ballsy kick and he got rewarded for having a go.
Cavanagh scored three points, but the last of them, the one that drew Tyrone level 0-11 apiece, was a key moment in the game.
You talk about fine margins and thin lines – this was it in a nutshell.
Never mind the fact that Donegal should have had a free when Frank McGlynn was tumbled down the other end seconds beforehand, but the sequence that followed was fatal.
When Cavanagh barges through before taking on the shot, the last person to engage him was Ryan McHugh. Cavanagh was able to pretty much use Ryan as leverage and hooked over the score.
That was poor from Donegal. It shouldn’t have been Ryan McHugh on the shoulder of Cavanagh at that point.
It should have been someone like Eamon McGee. If it had been, you can rest assured, Cavanagh wouldn’t have used Eamon McGee as leverage.
That might be stripping a 70-plus-minutes game into finite detail, but that is how close it was. In a game so tight, those moments are pivotal. It was that point that swung the pendulum in Tyrone’s favour.
Games like that come down to the small moments and the little details.[adrotate group=”38″]
That’s not to take anything away from Tyrone’s performance in the final.
You’d have to say that Donegal created that Tyrone display in many ways.
What Mickey Harte always had, above and beyond tactics, was a group bond, a brilliant work ethic and, of course, brilliant players.
Jim McGuinness arrived in Donegal with tactics that were on a different level, but what I saw when Tyrone played Derry in Celtic Park was a new Tyrone. I said that day: ‘Good luck to whoever can break that system down’.
They were in control of the game against Derry, but were so rigid, so disciplined and sticking to their system. They were well ahead of Derry, but still stuck to their plan.
Donegal got joy in the first half of the Ulster final, but Tyrone’s defending was unreal in the second half.
They waited. They waited some more. And they pounced.
They out-did Donegal.
Imagine when Donegal went 0-8 to 0-4 up if Donegal had just said: ‘We don’t have to attack, we’ll just keep the ball around the halfway line here.’
Image they had actually done that. There’d have been four or five spare around the halfway line just keeping it. Tyrone would have had to have come out and pushed forward. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened then.
At 8-4 ahead, Donegal gave up three terrible points; the softest scores of the game, in fact.
That was the first place we lost it.[adrotate group=”70″]
The second was the chances we let slip ourselves. There was the late ball into Colm McFadden that squirmed away and the long-range free that Michael Murphy tailed wide.
They were difficult, but had either clicked for Donegal the game was over.
A lot of people have been asking the question about why Leo McLoone wasn’t brought on in the second half.
Last year, Leo destroyed teams when he played inside for Naomh Conaill and he has earned his stripes. He’s definitely a player I think could have impacted on the final and helped to sway it in Donegal’s favour, but we’d have to think that there’s a valid reason that Rory Gallagher didn’t decide to utilise him.[adrotate group=”53″]
And, remember, Rory sees him at training every night and that is where these decisions are formed.
If that is the case – and we have no reason to think otherwise – then it’s up to Leo to put it right. And he is a player with serious talent who could have a huge role to play over the next month.
Something that was puzzling and troubling to watch against Tyrone was those moments when Donegal opted not to go long, but not only that, the fact that players weren’t looking up for the option.
Odhrán MacNiallais launched a bomb of a point in the first half – almost like how a number 10 in rugby would kick a drop goal – but it was an all-too rare occurrence.
Ryan McHugh kicked a couple of fine points from distance, too, but I’m talking more about ball being delivered to inside men.[adrotate group=”38″]
There was a moment when Kieran Gillespie sneaked in and Karl Lacey found him with a pass. Gillespie is on the ’21 with no Donegal player near him. There was a question of Gillespie being fouled, but inside on the endline was Patrick McBrearty and a Tyrone defender.
It happened a couple of times where McBrearty was inside like that. The 20-30-yard pass was on a lot and it was a pass that would have completely unhinged Tyrone. We didn’t play it, but more importantly we didn’t look to play it.
We aren’t looking anymore. It’s a ball that no defence can handle.
There was one time in the first half Donegal did pop a ball inside and Niall Morgan looked jittery when he came to punch it. He panicked.
Sometimes, the play is just screaming for someone to look up and punt it in. Only certain players can pull it off, but Donegal have a few men like Mac Niallais, Ryan McHugh and Karl Lacey who can execute a ball like that.
At 8-4 up, I wonder if Donegal just thought they had them and switched off a little. It was unbelievable that Donegal were out-scored 9-3 after being 8-4 up.
Donegal won’t be asked the same level of questions by Cork, but they have to be completely professional and have to get back to that rigid mode again.
They can’t allow Cork any leeway at all.
Only that type of a performance will suffice this weekend.
It’s a different prospect now that we’re out of Ulster. It changes a lot because of the battles, the history, the rivalry.
There was so much of all of that in Ulster, so much history with Monaghan and Tyrone and so much at stake.[adrotate group=”46″]
Cork are in disarray of late. Hurling has been the number one in Cork and football has been seen as something of a poor relation. Because the thing is so disjointed and going so poorly, I expect there’ll be ‘hundreds’ rather than ‘thousands’ of Cork fans going to Dublin for the game.
Cork are on the slide. You look at counties like Cavan, for instance, now their Championship was a big let down, but they’re regarded as a county that is ‘on the up’.
You could sense that this summer with their supporters and with their players.
To be a footballer for Cork now doesn’t seem to mean anything and that is definitely rubbing off on them.
They do still have good footballers in there, the likes of O’Neill and Hurley, but they’re waiting for a spark to ignite. Now, they are a side that could hit you for 1-2 or 1-3 with the power they have and they could garner serious belief from that, but Donegal are experienced enough to ensure that doesn’t happen.
The Cork dressing room has been written off and that makes it a pretty dangerous animal, but if Donegal can keep things tight – as they usually do – and impose themselves on the game, they could really control this one.
This is Donegal’s game to lose.
It would be a terrible game for Donegal to lose, given the lack of organisation and cohesion that we’ve seen from Cork.
There are still a lot of questions about why Donegal didn’t do this and why they didn’t do that. If we don’t pick up some answers on Saturday evening, we’ll be going no further.