No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: A good sign when there’s a spring in steps early in the year

Derry's Sean Leo McGoldrick holds off Odhran Mac Niallais and Christy Toye.

Derry’s Sean Leo McGoldrick holds off Odhran Mac Niallais and Christy Toye.

THE plan for Rory Gallagher from the day he was appointed Donegal manager was to get two wins from the opening two League games.

Getting off to a  good start is vital in the League. There is a three-week break after this week’s game and most of the squad will be a week in Dubai during that time off.

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We would have, no fault to Derry, expected to win last weekend’s game while the next game against Dublin will be much more difficult there is no reason that we can’t pick up the maximum points in Croke Park.

We are going to Dublin with confidence after the weekend’s win over Derry.

The signs are good at an early stage.

Donegal sat back in the first half and invited Derry on. Derry had a huge amount of possession and their three-point lead at half-time was deserved with Mark Lynch dominating, putting over several frees to punish Donegal.

When the ball did go into the Donegal forwards, Patrick McBrearty looked really sharp. The form Patrick is showing is excellent.

One of the points he got in the second half, from away out on the stand side, was as good as you’re likely to see anywhere.
It was seriously encouraging to see players like McBrearty and Toye, who didn’t start too much last year. McBrearty needs to be given a more dominant role and he will thrive.

McBrearty has to be the fulcrum. He has been used to being the main man. You could see his confidence from early on. He popped over a couple of early frees and when that happens the confidence can just surge through you. Patrick basically needs to be given that role Colm McFadden has assumed in recent years, but of course Colm has a massive role to play here. There’s no point in rushing Colm back into action. Come the summer, Colm McFadden is a man we need firing on all cylinders.

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Saturday’s game was crying out for Michael Murphy to be played in an advanced role, and actually for Donegal to be more advanced, especially in that period of the first half when Donegal stood off Derry. When that happened, Derry had no answer and Donegal outscored them 1-9 to 0-3 in the second half.

Donegal were totally dominant after the break.

You’d be worrying right now if you were Brian McIver. I can’t understand how the arrangement with Eoin Bradley is working. Bradley played for Glenavon on Saturday against Warrenpoint and then made a dash to Ballybofey, where he came on as a sub for Derry.

I did something similar in the early 90s. I played a match for Finn Harps against Cobh Ramblers in Finn Park at noon and ran across the road, boots and all on, to play for Donegal against Longford at half-past three. To see this happening in the modern game is surprising and it doesn’t make sense to me when you consider the level of effort and preparation that goes into county teams.

There are boys out there bursting a gut and I honestly wonder how they feel seeing Eoin Bradley coming off a soccer field from a big game, making a trek of a couple of hours to Ballybofey and being introduced in a Division 1 League match. It’s an indication of how much McIver needs Bradley when he’s willing to accomodate such a scenario.

Saturday’s match against Dublin in Croke Park is one that we’re all looking forward to. I’m sure Dublin will want to avenge some sort of compensation for the All-Ireland semi-final, but there will be a lot of new players on show who didn’t play last August.

People have said down the years ‘ah, it’s only the League’, but it really is vital to be playing in Division 1. You’re blooding players at a good, intense level. Sure, it’s a notch or two down from the Championship, but this is the next best thing. It’s really important for players to get playing at the highest level possible against the top sides.

A number of players really took the battle to Derry on Saturday. Martin McElhinney took real physicality into the game and the first thing he did was put the ball over the bar. Christy Toye has been playing well and he looks in tip-top shape. He’s so strong and a real force in the middle of the part alongside Neil Gallagher, whose ball-winning ability is second to none.

You have Michael Murphy doing his best work inside – Niall Holly was given a runaround by Murphy – and a twin attack of himself and McBrearty is an exciting prospect. Martin O’Reilly is another who looks like his confidence is brimming. It seems as if Rory Gallagher has injected a huge bit of confidence into the MacCumhaills man and he’s getting scores on the board now too.

There will be a spring in the Donegal steps heading into Croke Park on Saturday. This is a great opportunity to pick up two points.

Tyrone’s lights out

THE lights went out in more ways than one in Omagh on Saturday night.

Monagan came from five points down to blow Tyrone apart, beating them by seven points. That 12-point turnaround told us an awful lot about where Tyrone are at right now. It is a serious defeat and a loss like that can really knock a team back.

There was a 31-minute delay in Healy Park after the floodlights failed, but the Tyrone people must have wanted to cut the wires before the finish again.

Something has gone severely wrong in Tyrone. After they won the Dr McKenna Cup six of the players left the panel. Ok, it was ‘only’ the Dr McKenna Cup, but this was a squad that was winning matches and you just have to reach the conclusion that something is up in their set up.

Mickey Harte does not owe Tyrone a thing. He’s the most successful manager in the county’s history, but I do feel that he should have pulled the pin a couple of years ago.

To me, and Tyrone people won’t like to hear this, Harte has gone past his sell-by date.

Football is a ruthless game and that’s exactly what Tyrone used to be built upon: Their ruthless streak. They were born winners. The players who made them that way, bar Sean Cavanagh, have more or less all gone now and haven’t been replaced.

I think Mickey was guilty of keeping faith in some players for too long and he didn’t bring on enough young lads who were coming on their conveyor.

Kyle Coney, for instance, was tipped as the next big thing in Tyrone, but that hasn’t materialised at all.

May 17th is etched in the mind all the time. That’s where the focus is and there would have been some difference on the League’s opening night in the mood of the Donegal and Tyrone players.

Tyrone just looked disjointed and there appears to be a certain amount of unrest. Now, this weekend they go away to Mayo. It doesn’t get any easier for them.

Delicate approach needed to concussion

CONCUSSION is a sensative issue that the GAA needs to start dealing with better.

Ireland’s rugby team start their Six Nations campaign this Saturday against Italy at the Aviva Stadium and Jonny Sexton, the Irish out-half, is likely to be missing because of a concussion – sustained against Australia in NOVEMBER. Sexton is still deemed to be unfit to play.

Concussion is a delicate topic and we saw it hit the GAA headlines again this week after it was claimed that Tyrone player Sean Cavanagh played on against Monaghan despite being concussed.

Tyrone were quick to point out, via a statement in which the team doctor was quoted, that the claims were untrue. There is no getting away from it: concussion is a serious issue and the GAA needs to change its approach to how it deals with it.

Weekend wager

FOR all the punters out there, there’s some value in the markets this week. I’m going for Galway (4/6), Mayo (1/2) and Wicklow(4/7) to win.

Rest In Peace, Danny

FINALLY, I want to sympathise with the family of the late Danny Keeney, who passed away in London this week. Danny was always heavily involved in Tir Chonaill Gaels  club and served his time as Chairman. I remember when I was managing Donegal we took the team over to London for a National League game and Danny was the man who made sure we were well looked after.

A Donegal man, Danny retained his passion for Gaelic Games and kept the flame burning in London. He’ll be sadly missed by all who knew him.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Do you have a comment to make on any of the above or would you like Declan to raise an issue in the column? If so, get in touch by email d.bonner@donegalnews.com

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