BY CHRIS MCNULTY
KERRY became the first team to convincingly solve Donegal’s rubix cube on Sunday.
The Kingdom tore strips off Donegal’s complex defensive puzzle, leaving Jack O’Connor praising his side’s ‘clever’ artistry and Jim McGuinness suffering from the heaviest defeat of his 20 months in charge of Tir Chonaill.
Donegal started like a house on fire, roaring into a three-point lead inside five minutes – but the flames were extinguished as Kerry’s power and precision took over.
This weekend, Donegal tread in the murky ‘must win’ territory as they welcome Mayo to Ballyshannon on Sunday and Jim McGuinness has challenged his side to respond.
“We really need to lift ourselves. They’re all big games now. It isn’t about the League now – it’s about bouncing back and trying to get a reaction,” McGuinness said following Sunday’s eleven-point defeat in Killarney.
“This is the first time it’s happened to us in the last two years. It’s going to happen some time and if it’s going to happen anywhere this is the place. You have to take lessons and move on.
“I would never be critical of them, but it was one of the very few days that we didn’t perform.
“We need to look at that and try to figure out why. While it’s very painful now it will be a worthwhile exercise if we can do that.”
Aside from ankle-injury victim Martin McElhinney (who was back in training again on Wednesday night) Donegal don’t have any more of their first-choice players to return, though McGuinness will be keen to keep up the advancement of recovery for Christy Toye, Colm McFadden and Eamon McGee by giving them more gametime this week.
Since his return from injury, Michael Murphy has been Donegal’s only real threat in front of the posts and as they hover over the top flight’s trapdoor they’ll look to obtain a greater spread of scorers this time out.
They face James Horan’s Mayo, who are coming off the back of a first League defeat of the year having been beaten by Down on Sunday in Castlebar. Aidan O’Shea was sent off on Sunday and the Breaffy man looks like facing a two-game ban, but Kevin McLoughlin should be available, as should Richie Feeney, for Sunday’s trip to the north-west.
“We had the chances to win the game and we didn’t take them,” was Horan’s verdict on Sunday’s defeat to Down.
“We didn’t kick the frees and we didn’t take the right shots. That was ultimately what cost us in the end. We had the chances to win but didn’t take them.”
Mayo scored just once in the final 20 minutes and this clash with Donegal is a meeting with another side whose attack has malfunctioned lately due to injuries to some of their sharp-shooters.
With Conor Mortimer and Alan Freeman in good scoring form in Mayo’s three games, they’ll bring a difficult set of variables for Donegal to deal with. On home soil, though, Donegal are capable of getting back to winning ways and have the firepower to get the points.
Quite simply, they have to.