SATURDAY night was all about getting over the line, by whatever means possible. Just avoiding defeat was the aim of the game and, after getting past Laois, we can look forward to a quarter- final against Mayo – a good draw for Donegal, I feel.
Jim McGuinness and James Horan will both have been plotting for a rematch, but not until the semi-final stage. Donegal showed a lot of improvement on Saturday evening and that’s a good way to be going to Croke Park.
There were glimpses of what Donegal are capable of and flashes of the Donegal of last year coming back again. Mayo might have a score to settle with Donegal, but Donegal have a score to settle with themselves in many ways after an indifferent couple of performances. For long stages of the game in the second half there were only a couple of points in it, but Donegal finished the game admirably well.
A lot of teams are doing unto us what we’ve done unto others in the past. Teams set up very defensively against Donegal. We need to be more patient because we are able to find ways through.
With 22 minutes gone, the score was just 0-1 apiece and there a lot of errors, a lot of kick passing going astray. Donegal got together and went 0-5 to 0-1 up. Laois kicked some fine scores from Ross Munnelly and Donal Kingston under pressure and all of a sudden it was game on. Donegal kicked on and Colm McFadden, Patrick McBrearty, Leo McLoone and Neil McGee got up for scores.
Laois mightn’t be world beaters, but they have a very solid system under Justin McNulty and they put up a stubborn challenge to Donegal. But the big thing for Donegal here was that many of their big players were back on top form: Frank McGlynn had his best game of the season, Neil McGee dealt well with anything that went his way and Ryan McHugh picked up a lot of breaks.
McFadden and McBrearty were looking sharp again. McBrearty looked really sharp and scored a brilliant point late in the first half. He deserved his score as he was showing out in front all evening and got a lot of good possession. Against Monaghan, the first couple of balls were knocked away from him, but he stuck at his task here and was clicking into gear again.
Michael Murphy hasn’t been near the form he’s capable of, but he had a magnificent start to the year and it was always going to be hard to maintain that level. Michael does well in Croke Park and I think we’ll see him get back to his best again. At this stage, we need to accentuate the positives.
Neil Gallagher was immense on Saturday evening. He’s our only real ball winner and he’s so vital to us. Rory Kavanagh puts huge energy into his game and he’s the perfect foil for Neil in the middle of the field. We weren’t at our best on Saturday, but we still saw enough positives.
We still have to lift it a notch or two. Jim and the players will know that. To a degree, the six-day turnaround was ideal for Donegal. The players could park the Ulster final, get over it and concentrate on getting back on track. It’s great to see Karl Lacey continue to get game time. That said, we need to see him back at number 6 again.
None of the provincial winners will have wanted to meet Donegal. They aren’t playing well of late, but they’re still a ferocious animal for any side to meet. I’d say James Horan, if he’d had a pick, he’d have selected any of the other qualifiers. One thing Donegal don’t have is a fear of Mayo.
I think this is a great draw – what a draw to get the pulses racing again. I think Jim McGuinness will be quite happy to be back in Croke Park where we are with the Monaghan game out of the systems. We outplayed Mayo ten months ago in the All-Ireland and we all know that Donegal are capable of having the measure of Mayo.
It’s hard to know where Mayo are at. They’ve beaten Galway, Roscommon and London, but they’ve not been tested at all. Mayo will be fresh, but there’ll still be something nagging at them, wondering where exactly their development is at. When the players heard the draw, I imagine they were already thing ahead: Neil Gallagher thinking about Aidan O’Shea or Neil McGee wondering if he’d be picking up Cillian O’- Connor.
It’s just the match-ups that get you going as a player. There has been plenty of talk since the All-Ireland from Mayo about how they felt they’d outplayed Donegal. On Sunday, we’ll get a true reading of things. Fasten the seatbelts, folks. Have you a comment to make on any of the above or would you like Declan to raise an issue in his column? If so, you can email Declan at firstname.lastname@example.org