ONE of the facts we can’t deny in the lead up to Sunday’s defeat by Monaghan is that Donegal manager Jim McGuinness had warned us that Monaghan would present a huge challenge in our quest for three-in-a-row Ulster titles.
In a number of interviews in the days leading up to the game Jim said that Monaghan would bring a ferocious appetite to the table in Clones. They hadn’t won an Ulster title in 25 years, came into the game as massive underdogs and were therefore in a great place leading up to a final on their home turf.
In fact, McGuinness compared Monaghan’s position to the one which Donegal found themselves in two years earlier and he was right. The Farney men set about Donegal from the opening whistle and raced into an early four point lead which appeared on the scoreboard before the game really started. There was no need to panic.
Donegal had started badly but once they settled things would surely be okay? The loss of Mark McHugh after ten minutes certainly didn’t help their cause but no one quite expected what we got in terms of performance. Monaghan were in control and causing all sorts of problems throughout the pitch but then we seemed to settle and despite missing a couple of chances we finally managed to get two scores on the board before the half time whistle sounded.
At that point I thought that we had got out of jail. Monaghan had given it their best shot and we were only three points down. Surely they couldn’t sustain the ferocity in their play? We all now know that they could and did. We had a couple of near goal chances from Frank McGlynn and Michael Murphy which went narrowly wide and Monaghan raced away to record a deserved victory.
What should not be forgotten in our disappointment is that fact that Monaghan came into the game with a plan, applied it brilliantly and thoroughly deserved to take their first title in 25 years. It’s a long time since Donegal were outplayed in such a manner and on the day the team looked tired and heavy legged. Sometimes these things happen for no apparent reason and you just have to dust yourself down and move on.
For Donegal that means the qualifiers for the first time since 2010 and a clash with Laois in Carrick on Shannon this Saturday. It’s a route that we would prefer to have avoided because it puts a completely different complexion on the remainder of the championship. Victory tomorrow evening sets up a quarter final meeting against either Kerry, Dublin or Mayo and beyond that who knows.
Donegal had a bad day at the office last Sunday but let’s not panic. It’s not the end of the world. We are the qualifier that no one wants to meet and should we overcome Laois then Dublin, Kerry nor Mayo will be looking to be paired against us in the quarter final. Our bid to win three provincial titles in a row is gone but our quest to retain the All Ireland begins.
It will be a tough ask but if the players embrace it then we can hopefully look forward to a few big days out yet this summer. Why the game has been fixed for Carrick though remains a mystery. With all due respect to Leitrim, the venue’s capacity – which is anything from 9,500 to 15,000 depending on what you read – is not big enough to host the All Ireland champions.
Why did the powers that be not fix the Galway v Cork game for Limerick or Thurles and allow the Donegal game become part of the triple header in Croke Park? Surely that would have made a lot more sense but then again, sense can be in short supply around Croke Park on occasion. Anyway, if you can get your hands on a ticket get along to Carrick in support of the lads.
The route may be different but the destination remains the same. This isn’t over by any means. I would expect Tyrone, Cavan and Cork to win the other qualifier games at Croke Park and I look forward to the quarter final draw on Saturday night with interest. We can’t play Monaghan and Kerry can’t play Cork. What about Donegal v Mayo. It’s a draw I’m sure James Horan and Mayo won’t relish!
HARPS STRUGGLES CONTINUE
If you read Peter Hutton’s comments in the wake of last weekend’s 4-0 defeat away to Mervue you would quickly realise how annoyed and frustrated he was. Finn Harps have collected just two points out of a possible 21 which isn’t good enough for a team who harbour promotion ambitions.
He said that if he would have replaced all 11 players on the night if he could have which speaks volumes about how frustrated he really was. ‘Arranmore-Gate’ is an issue which seems to have had an adverse effect on all at the club and one which Peter Hutton, a top professional as a player and manager, would have dealt with more severely had he the necessary resources available to him.
Harps now have ten games to salvage something from what is fast becoming a wreck of a season. That said, they can still finish third but only if there is a major improvement from those who wear the club’s colours.
PHIL’S CLASS STILL THERE
My favourite player Phil Mickleson produced what he called the best round of his career to win the British Open for the first time last weekend. Five down at the start of play he produced a super round which included four birdies in the final six holes to win by three.
There’s no doubt that Phil should have won more than five majors but the way he plays the game makes him more vulnerable than most to costly errors. Perhaps Phil summed it up best himself when he said: “To win here feels amazing but you have to be resilient in this game, you have to accept the losses as well as you accept the victories.” Donegal players take note.