SO, the Allianz League is put behind us and we’re full steam ahead for Tyrone – but what exactly have we learned from the last couple of months?
For me, I think that the much-maligned game against Monaghan in Letterkenny could well be seen as a turning point in the season.
Donegal lost that day 0-9 to 1-4 and the fare on offer was roundly criticised.
I could sense real frustration in Rory Gallagher that day. The play was so lateral and Donegal didn’t seem to have any idea of how to break Monaghan down. Monaghan were so defensive and Donegal didn’t help their own cause. I sensed after that day that we’d see a different style, a slightly more expansive one, from Donegal – and so it has proved.
Since then, Donegal went to Kerry and scored 2-11, they were in Castlebar and hit 1-9, while 1-13 was put past Tyrone in between times and then there were the 19 points landed against Cork last week.
The offensive game is clearly being worked on, but the balance is always the one – making sure that we’re not being left open and vulnerable. Donegal will have analysed last Sunday’s game and will see the damage caused by leaving gaps in the middle third.
Donegal’s attack, I believe, will be much sharper this year than perhaps we’ve ever seen.
Patrick McBrearty is in the form of his life. He’s in his fifth year as a senior player now and it’s often forgotten that he’s still only 21. In 2011, he came onto the scene as a minor and he was put into a full-forward line alongside Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden.
They were the main focal points and in 2012 Murphy and McFadden took Donegal over the line to Sam Maguire with their scores. I think McBrearty’s confidence might have been dented some way in those years. Ok, he did win an All-Ireland and a couple of Ulster titles, but in every team he had ever played for he was the go-to man and the main forward.
That is a role that he’s now being given with Donegal. McFadden hasn’t seen as much game time and Murphy has been doing a lot of his recent work out the field. It is no coincidence that McBrearty is now thriving – he is in the best form we have ever seen from him at this level and he’s a player we’ll definitely be depending on this summer.
Murphy has been in excellent form without sparkling which is seriously encouraging. He gives his all every day. He seems to be going at 60-70 per cent but he is a Championship player and imagine what he could do at 100 per cent.
McFadden I think will have a big part to play. Sure, he’s coming near the end of his career, but he has really shown that he has the bit between his teeth again in the last couple of weeks.
You could see in recent League form that Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey were really moving up the levels. Their hunger is there and they’re working so hard.
The last two games have really outlined the importance of Neil Gallagher to Donegal. He has been playing with real confidence since 2012 and he’s the only natural ball winner that we have. He is a Championship player that we simply cannot be without and Martin McElhinney has been one of the big plusses this year – he’s certainly gone into the first XV now.
The game itself resembled an exhibition match. There was no real intensity to the game although both teams go at it. Donegal kicked 19 points and anytime that happens you’d expect to win the game, but then a gain you don’t win games by conceding four goals. While Donegal did kick some great scores, we were very open in defence – but it wasn’t a worry at all.
What it did show is that when the bodies aren’t flooding back, then Donegal are vulnerable with the gaps left. You can rest assured that Donegal won’t concede four goals against Tyrone next month – and it’s probably unlikely that we’ll see them kick 19 points then either! The first thing that Jim McGuinness did when he came in as manager was to get the defensive system in place and that ensured that Donegal could be competitive. It was key to the success under him.
Donegal are out very early in the Championship and are in a period of really hard training so Sunday wasn’t a worry at all.
Although I do believe that Tyrone will be a dangerous proposition on May 17, I do sense trouble in their camp. PJ Lavery this week became the fifth player in a fortnight to leave their squad. He had played a lot of games this spring and it was a surprise to see him leave. What struck me is the fact that he isn’t the first Clonoe man leaving and there does appear some friction there.
Fixture schedule is no minor matter
OUR minors are in action against Down in the Ulster Minor League semi-final this weekend and I must say the whole thing is becoming very difficult and I wonder really where we’re going in the whole area of scheduling games.
For example, at least three or four of our players in the last nine days have been out for seven days. When these players arrive at training, all we are doing is carrying out rehab work on them. That is so frustrating as a manager when you consider all the work that’s being put in. We’re four weeks out from the Championship and we’re doing nothing only fire fighting.
We have to seriously look at player welfare. Every team and every manager has their demands, but this is not a blame game. The difficulty is the calendar. Nobody knows the importance of the club more than I do. Coming from a small club I can see players who have been lucky enough to go to county squads and they are clearly going to be the key players for the club. They’ll be the focal point in any team coming out of that club. Do we punish those players and clubs because of that? It feels to me as if that’s what’s happening.
The problem here is the situation that the players are finding themselves in – and it’s time for someone in Croke Park to devise a way of making the life of the young player more management. On Tuesday night, for instance, we had seven players unable to train and a large reason for that was their punishing schedules. That can’t continue.
An issue that needs awareness
TODAY, Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath undergoes surgery for testicular cancer.
McGrath is just 24, but cancer doesn’t take age into account. Noel McGrath is one of the most talented hurlers in the country who was the Young Hurler of the Year in 2009.
Men in general tend to have the ‘ah sure it’ll be grand’ or the ‘ah sure I’ll be fine’ attitude and are reluctant at times to seek medical help.
I think it’s time that the GAA and GPA got their heads together to actively promote men’s health and issues surrounding testicular cancer. We have seen the benefits of their programmes surrounding gambling and other addictions. This would most certainly be a worthwhile campaign.
Best wishes to Noel McGrath today.
Have you 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 emailing email@example.com