DONEGAL MADE IT three wins from three on Sunday against Mayo in Ballybofey. Here’s a look at five talking points from the game:
- Almighty headache looms for Rory Gallagher
RORY Gallagher, the Donegal manager, was quick to note last week, in the lead-up to this game that ‘things can change very quickly’, but the mood in his camp will only have heightened courtesy of a 1-14 to 1-12 win over Mayo.
Gallagher himself is measured in his comments these days, but there should be no doubting that he must be privately thrilled with what 2016 has served him so far.
Last year, Donegal played catch-up and perhaps that pressurised, condensed and even haphazard time meant that Gallagher didn’t quite get a full crack at the whip last year.
Now, though, we’re seeing a Donegal that is still minus Karl Lacey and Colm McFadden top of Division 1 with three wins from three and the hand available to the manager as close to a Royal Flush as at any time in the past.
Consider that Paddy McGrath is enjoying his best spell in the county jersey; the many options the return of Rory Kavanagh has opened up; while Neil Gallagher and Martin McElhinney haven’t started yet; not to mention the form of Eoin and Ryan McHugh.
Leo McLoone has surely forced the manager’s hand for a start now, too, and you can see why Gallagher may be taking longer over his morning coffee these days.
- Donegal have kick-out issues to address
WITH Paul Durcan’s inter-county future still up in the air, they’re minus one of their most potent weapons of the last few years.
Durcan’s kick-outs were the launchpad for so much and his almost telepathic understanding with his team-mates made it nigh-on impossible for opponents to second guess the Donegal town man.
Durcan’s disguised kicks were a real highlight, but in his absence Donegal are learning that particular trade again.
In Ballybofey, Mayo, as Rory Gallagher put it ‘destroyed’ Donegal on kick-outs.
In the first half, Mayo won nine of the 11 Donegal kick-outs that were taken, including seven in a row at one point.
It helped give Mayo a real edge and, although Donegal did improve in the second half, it’s an area that will need remedy going forward.
Peter Boyle only joined the panel in January and will take time to build the same kind of understanding and routine that Durcan had. One thing really in favour of the Aodh Ruadh man is the distance he can put on his darts.
- Rory Kavanagh – it’s as if he was never away
IT felt like a trick of the mind that it was the same Rory Kavanagh.
The one who’d retired from inter-county football in January of 2015. The one who’d penned an autobiography, Winning.
The same one who was at his graceful and elegant best in Ballybofey on Sunday.
Over the winter, Rory Gallagher knocked on a door at The Maples in Letterkenny and planted a seed.
At the launch of Kavanagh’s book, a few weeks earlier, Gallagher mentioned that the ‘door was always open’. Players, too, were keen for Kavanagh’s return and in January he confirmed a U-turn.
Sunday marked his first start for Donegal since the 2014 All-Ireland final, but on his 135th game for the county he showed real value.
Kavanagh scored a fine point in the first-half before playing a key role in Leo McLoone’s goal.
Taking a pass from Christy Toye, another of the seasoned veterans, Kavanagh glided forward and waited for the right moment to off-load to McLoone. The Glenties man didn’t need to break stride before clipping past Rob Hennelly.
- An occasion fit for the Championship
THE hum of Christy Murray’s bagpipes, a crowd of close-to 12,000 in Sean MacCumhaill Park and the sun beating down on the old ground gave Sunday a real Championship look and feel.
It was the biggest crowd ever for a League game in Donegal and the fiercely contested game wouldn’t have been out of place in the summer either.
While the card count was excessive with Barry Cassidy losing the run of himself in handing 10 yellow and one black card out, the pulsating nature of the game was at odds with the date.
Mayo and Donegal have become serious foes in recent times. When Neil McGee and Aidan O’Shea went to ground early on, it was clear that the battle lines had been long since drawn.
Mayo supporters travelled in huge numbers. There are around 3,500 season ticket holders in Mayo and, as one wag put it, it seems easier to get a medical card than a ticket in Castlebar these days.
All of that made for a gripping afternoon that made you wonder if Donegal should revert to playing all of their home games in Ballybofey, where they are now unbeaten in 14 League and Championship games, stretching back to 2010.
- Safety secured, but caution advised
WITH the maximum six points bagged from their opening three games, Donegal have secured Division 1 status.
Rory Gallagher would like to see his team obtain one more point, just to be sure, but no team has been relegated to Division 2 after reaching six points since the League went into its current format.
The numbers don’t point to Donegal being the exception.
Donegal are now entitled to gaze towards the semi-finals and, on the evidence of what we’ve seen from that, it’s a realistic goal the squad should have.
That said, Donegal face much more testing examinations with three of their next four games away from home against Kerry, Monaghan and Dublin.
Roscommon’s form shows that the remaining home fixture isn’t exactly a ‘gimme’ either.Tags: