DONEGAL ARE JUST one step away from a place in the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final in September.
That’s because Shaun Paul Barrett’s side overcame Cork on a 2-13 to 0-13 scoreline at Croke Park on Saturday in the quarter-final and now have a semi-final against Galway to come on Saturday, August 21, in what will be the curtain-raiser to the senior last four clash between Tipperary and either Tyrone or Mayo.
Photo caption: Donegal manager Shaun Paul Barrett with his panel after they defeated Cork in the All-Ireland MFC quarter-final at Croke Park on Saturday. Photo:Geraldine Diver
1 – Patience is a virtue
Donegal, against their own wishes it must be said, have developed something of a reputation of being slow starters before hitting the higher gears later in the contest, with the one notable exception being the Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan at Breffni Park.
That evening, Barrett’s side were in a decent position at half-time, 2-7 to 0-5 in front, before winning out 3-15 to 2-12 in the end.
In the round before that, against Antrim, Donegal were staring down the barrel at 2-7 to 0-8 down in the second half before Niall O’Donnell, who would finish the game with a personal total of 2-5, played the get out of jail card in what turned into a 2-11 to 2-7 success in the end.[adrotate group=”53″]
In the Ulster final against Derry, Donegal kicked four wides in succession before getting off the mark and eventually winning 2-10 to 1-11, with JD Boyle’s goal before the break proving vital.
Saturday, in the All-Ireland quarter-final, was a similar story as Cork led at one stage 0-6 to 0-1 and it took Donegal to win the second half 1-10 to 0-3 to progress on a 2-13 to 0-13 scoreline.
Those types of wins have shown the resolve in this Donegal panel, but Barrett would certainly like to see his team hit the ground running as they have serious potential. He admitted on Saturday he told his players to “throw off the shackles” at half-time.[adrotate group=”38″]
2 – Improvement at all levels
Since the turn of the decade, Donegal have reached six successive Ulster senior finals, lost in the Under-21 deciders in 2013, 2014 and 2015 having won the crown and reaching the All-Ireland final in 2010 and now have two from three provincial crowns at minor level. Added to that, Barrett’s team this year was the third from the county to win the Ulster Minor League in succession, so there’s a steady improvement from all levels.
Even on Saturday, winning against Cork at Croke Park in the championship at both minor and senior level shows where Donegal now find themselves.[adrotate group=”63″]
In 2012, before the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, Jim McGuinness spoke about how Donegal football needed to evolve.
“We want to develop a synergy in Donegal,” he said. “A successful county team can energise the club scene and encourage more young players to get out on the pitch and play the sport. Then you might be able to get another Michael Murphy or Colm McFadden, a Karl Lacey or a Ryan Bradley coming out of it.
“That will see a new generation coming through and if that cycle continues that’s where tradition comes from. We’re only working towards that here at the minute.”
Now, five years on from a first Ulster title in 19 years and coming up on four from the second capture of Sam Maguire, that new generation are making names for themselves.
Donegal joint-captain Niall O’Donnell gets away from Nathan Walsh of Cork in the All-Ireland MFC quarter-final at Croke Park on Saturday. Photo:Geraldine Diver
3 – Balance on board
Last year’s Donegal minor team was expected to do great things, only to be undone by a Derry side inspired by the excellence of Conor Glass in the Ulster semi-final in Clones.
This year’s side probably isn’t as swashbuckling as its predecessors, but there’s a very good balance to the team. Kieran Gallagher and Jason McGee are two statuesque figures at centre-field, something more traditionalist in a sense.[adrotate group=”68″]
McGee’s goal put the skids on Cork briefly in the first half on Saturday, although Donegal were still 0-10 to 1-3 down at the interval. However, the Donegal midfield duo were completely dominant come the second half and that set the tone for victory.
Added to that, Peadar Mogan put in another top-class shift – just as he had done in the Ulster final – and the likes of Enda McCormick, Mark Curran and Aidan McLaughlin also stood out. Niall O’Donnell attracted a lot of attention, as usual, but still finished the day with five points and played a pivotal role in the creation of chances.
4 – Opportunity awaits
For too many years to remember, there were only sorry tales of Donegal sides when it came to the All-Ireland minor championship.
Donegal’s first five Ulster minor winning sides all fell at the All-Ireland semi-final stage. In 1956, Leitrim overcame Donegal 1-9 to 2-1, before defeats to Cork – 2-5 to 0-9 in 1985 and 0-12 to 1-6 in 1991. The 1996 reversal against Laois, 2-8 to 1-10, was a difficult pill to swallow and the 2006 vintage went down 2-13 to 1-10 when taking on Kerry.[adrotate group=”46″]
Only one Donegal team ever – Declan Bonner’s side from just two years ago – have ever made it as far as the All-Ireland minor final, where they defeated Dublin 1-12 to 1-11 in the semi-final only to lose out against Kerry 0-17 to 1-10.
Therefore the contemporaries have an opportunity to write a chapter of their own history on Sunday fortnight.
5 – Galway await – and there could well be chances
Galway are back to back Connacht champions following their 1-9 to 0-6 win over Mayo this season having won the All-Ireland MFC on five occasions – 1952, 1960, 1970, 1976, 1986 and 2007.[adrotate group=”76″]
They are in the All-Ireland semi-final following a 3-10 to 0-12 win over Laois in Tullamore on Saturday but in a rather peculiar contest, were 2-6 to 0-2 up at half-time “despite struggling at midfield,” according to The Irish Times.
In the second half, the same newspaper reported: “It could have been a different story, with Laois squandering as many as eight goal chances during the hour. That said, Galway goalkeeper Cormac Haslam was in inspired form.”
However, Galway created a lot themselves, according to The42.ie: “Five clear-cut chances to raise green flags were created by the young Tribesmen, three of which were finished to the net – Galway’s lead preserved to the end by the shocking profligacy of the Leinster team.”
Donegal are facing a team who will clearly want to play open football.[adrotate group=”37″]