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Donegal v Meath: Five things we learned

Neil Gallagher wins the high ball against Meath.

Neil Gallagher wins the high ball against Meath.

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

1    Kick-out strategy needs repair

ONE suspect that when Donegal gathered in Castlefin on Tuesday night, one of the bullet points at the top of the ‘things to work’ on list would have been their kick-outs, which cause quite some angst on Sunday.

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Meath cleaned possession from the Donegal kick-outs in the early stages of Sunday’s clash. When Paul Durcan popped one into Michael Murphy’s chest in the fifteenth minute it was the first time in ten attempts that Donegal had won a kick-out.

It wasn’t particularly something that should fall at Paul Durcan’s door solely, but perhaps a collective issue.

Neil Gallagher’s emergence off the bench gave Donegal a fine platform to compete in the second half.

With Martin McElhinney, Rory Kavanagh, Leo McLoone and Christy Toye in this area, as well as Murphy dropping out to moonlight at times, and Gallagher still to come into the starting XV, Donegal have plenty of big men to enable them to make a fist of it.

Expect the tactic to be altered on Sunday in Newry. Meath proved in the early stages how damaging allowing the opponent to win possession can be. Donegal recovered well, but won’t want a repeat of their first-half statistics from Ballybofey.

2 Donegal mustn’t allow McFadden to be starved

Donal Keogan, Meath challenges Colm McFadden of Donegal.

Donal Keogan, Meath challenges Colm McFadden of Donegal.

COLM McFadden has been one of the top marksmen in the country in the last three years and the St Michael’s man’s accuracy has become such a matter of form that it’s almost taken for granted in Donegal.

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His importance to Donegal’s cause was perhaps more evident in the first half last Sunday. The experienced forward heading for the dressing rooms at half-time scoreless and had been very limited in opportunities.

McFadden’s first point came in the 42nd minute, finishing off a superb team move that involved Anthony Thompson and Dermot Molloy. He ended the day with three points, adding two frees during that purple patch that resurrected Donegal’s challenge.

McFadden is so vital to the Tir Chonaill challenge and having him suffocated inside is something that Donegal cannot afford to happen. Keeping him involved generally means keeping the scoreboard ticking as only he can.

3 Michael Murphy: Donegal’s iceman

Michael Murphy whose last kick of the game gave Donegal a draw against Meath in MacCumhaill Park.

Michael Murphy whose last kick of the game gave Donegal a draw against Meath in MacCumhaill Park.

WHEN Michael Newman encroached as referee Padraig Hughes threw up a ball close to the left-hand sideline last Sunday, the game was up for Donegal. Meath were heading for victory, leading by a point and looking to run the clock down.

Even when Hughes awarded a free for Newman’s infringement, there was a hope within the Royals camp that they could survive the play.

Enter Michael Murphy.

There are few players around who would have gone for the kick, let alone nailed it.

From close to the chalk of the touchline, Murphy lined up his angles and executed his kick to perfection, his curling right-footed effort sailing nonchalantly between the River End sticks. Donegal town man Damien Dunnion captured the footage from his perch in the stand, just behind where Murphy stood.

It was the game’s last act and secured Donegal what could be a precious point.

That the score was a matter of routine for the skipper says a lot about his standing. It was personification of being ice cool.

4    Dermot Molloy’s chance to shine

Dermot Molloy

Dermot Molloy

WHEN he hit a goal on his debut against Down in 2010, Dermot Molloy was hailed as a rising star of Donegal football and now, four years on, the Naomh Conaill man has become a regular fixture in the starting fifteen again. The emergence of Patrick McBrearty in 2011 meant that a new left-footed forward was in the process of taking on that mantle.

This year, Molloy has started the four National League games. With McBrearty making a big impression off the bench in previous games, the Kilcar native missed out on a start last weekend because of an injury and will begin Sunday’s game in Newry on the bench, allowing Molloy another chance to shine.

Molloy has made some big plays in his time with the county and McGuinness, who has seen him from a young age, knows what he has in the locker. Donegal hasn’t yet seen the best of ‘Brick’, but McGuinness clearly believes the spark is there to light his fire.

5 Meath stung by early criticism

Meath Manager Michael O'Dowd.

Meath Manager Michael O’Dowd.

MEATH arrived in Ballybofey with few outside their own circle – even within the boundaries of the Royal county – giving them a chance of anything bar a heavy defeat at MacCumhaill Park.

Mick O’Dowd’s team set off like a team with a point to prove and will count themselves unfortunate not to have high-tailed out of the Twin Towns with the maximum points.

Meath had won their opening game against Galway, but conceded heavily in a game they won 3-18 to 4-11. When defeats against Armagh and Monaghan followed, the whispers rose.

“Our performance needed to go up a level and it did,” O’Dowd said after their draw in Ballybofey.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t win it, but it’s a sign of the performance that we are disappointed. I’m so proud of the players.”

Meath had clearly been hurt by the sharp comments levelled at their previously porous rearguard.

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