JIM McGuinness and Donegal have placed huge importance on Sunday’s League final and it’s easy to see why.
This is a national final against the Ulster champions, Monaghan, at Croke Park and it comes a month out from the start of the Ulster Championship. It might ‘only’ be a Division 2 final, but in Donegal we can’t very well deduce that it’s beneath us. We’ve only ever been in six League finals in our history and we’ve won just two.
Added to our two All-Irelands, it doesn’t make for a huge haul so this is a fantastic chance to add a little bit more silverware to the cupboard.
The big prize on offer in Division 2 is promotion and, while Donegal have already achieved that, this is a game that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And it won’t be by Donegal.
Jim will be delighted to get a competitive game before the Championship – and this will be competitive.
You don’t expect anything less from Monaghan. Last year in the Ulster final they took Donegal’s game plan apart.
Whatever it was, whether it was complacency or lethargy from Donegal or just the sheer power of Monaghan’s desire that took them past Donegal, there were a lot of reasons for Malachy O’Rourke’s side being the worthy winners.
That was a game that derailed Donegal, but they’re on the back of a successful training camp in Portugal and they’re in a much better place now than they were in last July.
It’s important to get one over on Monaghan and also a chance to get a bit of silverware.
They’ll view this as an ideal opportunity to lay down a marker, but they’ll also see it as a rare chance of silverware. We’ve not won too much in our history. League titles aren’t to be sneezed at.
Above all, what this is, is a chance to go into the Championship on a really positive note.
Monaghan were never a side that held any fears of playing Donegal. They have a great record in the past of playing and beating Donegal in big games.
Monaghan will bring a physical edge to the game. They have good ball winners at midfield, they have very good scoring forwards and their defence is just ruthless: Never mind having one Wylie to contend with in there, there are now two!
There is a lot at stake on Sunday – for both teams.
For the players, it’s a chance to nail down Championship spots. While we have seen some buds of new blooms in Donegal, the indications are that it’ll be the tried and tested that will line out come May 25th in Celtic Park.
Overall in the last few years we haven’t seen too many changes. From the All-Ireland winning squad, there haven’t been many additions or subtractions and it is something of a concern that there aren’t more players of this calibre emerging.
However, we will see some alteration in the Donegal line-up, with Patrick McBrearty and Ryan McHugh coming in for starts.
This is a big game for McBrearty. He has been in good form of late, showing well for the Donegal Under-21s and for his club, Kilcar. If he can bring that form to the Donegal seniors, imagine that for a front-line of himself, Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy working in tandem.
We have been reliant on Colm and Michael too often, but if Patrick can step up to that plate then it would be a serious boost for Donegal. He has that ability, which isn’t in question, as he showed in the Under-21 campaign when he led the line magnificently.
Bar a couple of niggles Donegal are, finally, injury free again.
Wasn’t it great to see Paddy McGrath get 60 minutes under his belt on Sunday for Ardara at The Burn Road? He’s had a tough time of it since last Autumn. He’s another experienced player coming back into the set-up. Hopefully he can stay injury free because he’s a vital player in that defence.
Our defence is set up well: The physicality of the McGees, the man-marking and playing ability of Karl Lacey; the running power of Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson, really steady and consistent players; and we have Ryan McHugh and Leo McLoone among the others competing for positions.
Winning this game is important. After you lose a game you come back into your set up and the thing is flat for a week or so. It can take you a while to get it lifted again. It’s difficult and something to avoid.
On the flip side, getting a win and silverware would give the whole thing a huge lift.
It’s important that we get a good performance and with a good performance we will see a Donegal win that will set them up for the Championship.
Big day for Derry, too
DONEGAL fans will probably want to stay back to watch the Dublin v Derry game. I’m sure Jim, the management team and the players will want to keep a close eye on Derry, four weeks out from the Championship game.
We will find out a huge amount about Derry on Sunday.
Dublin have been free-scoring and really just relentless and menacing of late. They have frailties at the back which were evident against Cork, but any team that can turn a ten-point deficit into a seven-point win, a seventeen-point turnover, is well entitled to walk with a swagger.
When that is the Dubs and they’re coming into Croke Park you can multiply that.
My reading of it is simple: The team that beats Dublin in the Championship will be the team that will leave Croke Park with Sam Maguire at the end of the year.
It’s a game that will tell Brian McIver and Derry where exactly they are on the gauge. It’ll give the rest of us a fair indication, too.
As a manager, Brian has done his best work in League football. He brought great success to Donegal in the 2007 League, but we could never make the Championship breakthrough.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Derry cope with Dublin. The Dubs are just free-flowing, with the Brogans, Diarmuid Connolly, Kevin McManamon if he comes off the bench, Eoghan O’Gara. Their real strength might be their frontmen, but Michael Darragh Macauley was the player who eventually won them an All-Ireland last year.
He has ruled the roost for the past year and he’ll be the key man again on Sunday.
Mark Lynch has been Derry’s stand-out player so far in the League. He’s a huge player for Derry and they’ll need a big performance if they’re to trouble Dublin. I think Dublin go into this as red-hot favourites.
If Dublin do what they did to Cork it could really set Derry back big time. If Derry can put up a big performance and maybe win the League, the energy they get from that would be a real warning for Donegal.
But if Dublin burst their bubble time will be short ahead of the game against Donegal.
Win or lose, there will be a knock-on effect given that it’s so close to Championship now.
Centre of Excellence showing its worth
ON Tuesday night I trained the Donegal minor footballers in the Centre of Excellence in Convoy. Four Donegal teams trained there that night: the senior footballers, senior hurlers, minor footballers and minor hurlers.
It was absolutely great to see it. There is a lot of work going on there. The floodlights have been put up and it’ll be fantastic when we can see the block work and building begin on the dressing rooms.
This is something we have been crying out for in Donegal for ages, a home of our own.
It was really heartening to be there in the middle of it with other Donegal teams. Michael McMenamin was there and I’m sure as the Development Officer he is really proud of all the work.
Hopefully we will see the project to its completion. There’s a lot of work and a lot money to be spent yet – but it’s heading in the right direction.
John Hanningan, RIP
THE word legend is bandied around a little too often these times – but John Hannigan fitted the bill of a legend in the truest sense of the word. John was one of the real legends of Donegal football.
At a time when Donegal weren’t overly successful or when playing for Donegal wasn’t fashionable, John Hannigan was known. Growing up, I heard so much about John Hannigan. He was one of the men who carried the can in a difficult era. He was mentioned on all of the great teams of the past.
His sad and untimely passing this week leaves Donegal GAA without one of its heroes. John remained an avid supporter of Gaelic football when he finished his playing days and he was a true Gael.
On and off the pitch, John carried himself with such grace. He’s was a gentleman and will be sorely missed.
To his bereaved family, I send my sincere condolences.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
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