WITH less than three months to go until Donegal play in the quarter-final of the 2016 Ulster Championship, Rory Gallagher will already has one eye on Sunday, June 12, and a match against the winners of Fermanagh/Antrim in Ballybofey.
Wins in each of the opening three league matches means that Donegal will once again by plying their trade in the top flight next season bar a calamitous sequence of results over the next two weekends.
With that in mind he can afford to approach this weekend’s meeting with Dublin in Croke Park in a more relaxed state of mind.
Playing in Croke Park always has a nice ring to it. It’s where every young fella wants to play and the Donegal players are no different. That said, if we’re not at the pace of the game from the off on Saturday night we could easily end up on the wrong side of a drubbing.
After our great start to the league, people were saying that Donegal were the team to beat this year. That was before the Kerry match where we were bullied out of it to an extent and the hangover of the bad publicity which followed that match – unjustified criticism at that – carried over into the Roscommon game. They were the better team and deserved their victory in Letterkenny.
This weekend it’s very difficult to see where Rory can change things about personnel wise. It would appear that Neil McGee is struggling and, as a result, that weakens our full-back line.
The last day out we were too loose in defence and we need to tighten up considerably ahead of the Dublin game. Otherwise they’re more than capable of running amok as they’re a team that can put on a big scores if we leave the gaps and spaces for them to exploit as he did in the Roscommon game.
I do expect Donegal to come out fighting though and to set up more defensively that they have done so far this year. While it would be nice to win this weekend and finish off our campaign on a winning note against Monaghan, I’ve no doubt that Rory already has at least one eye on the Ulster Championship. He’ll still want a good performance though.
Dublin have already qualified for the semi-finals and it will be interesting to see what sort of team they put out. They might give a few of their fringe players some more game time but, again, they won’t want to lose the game.
From a Donegal point of view, Rory will want a good performance to lift morale once more. Playing under lights at Croke Park tends to lead to good games of football and here’s hoping it’s another good one tomorrow night.
A win this weekend and a good result against Monaghan would provide a perfect end to a league campaign which started so brightly but which has fallen by the wayside to a certain extent these past two games.
As mentioned earlier though the big picture is the Championship and I would be a little worried about some of the players that we have injured at the moment. Let’s hope that Nail McGee’s problems clear up; Colm McFadden hasn’t played much this year yet and while Karl Lacey is just making his way back to fitness Frank McGlynn is out with a hamstring injury. These players are all very important to Donegal.
We would have taken six points after five games at the start of the season so, at this stage, it’s vital that we get all our players fit and ready for the Ulster quarter-final.
Roscommon’s clash with Mayo will be one of the highlights of the weekend as the Rossies could push Mayo through the relegation trap door while they are in with a great chance of reaching the semi-finals, which would be a huge achievement after coming up from Divisions 3 to 1 in successive seasons.
Monaghan play Kerry, a team they beat by four points in last year’s Allianz Football League, and I would expect another close encounter this time around while Cork should have too much for Down.
In Division Two the meeting between Tyrone and Armagh will also be of interest here in Ulster. Mickey Harte’s charges have taken Division Two by storm and are rightly back in the top flight where they remain among the top four teams in the country and I would expect them to win again this time around.
My beat this weekend is Roscommon at 5/4, Kerry to beat Monaghan at even money and Derry to beat Meath at 4/7.
U21 Ulster semi-final
We take on Tyrone in the Ulster U21 semi-final on Wednesday night next in Celtic Park, throw-in 8pm, and it would be great to see a large Donegal crowd in attendance.
Tyrone still have six of the lads on board who helped them win the All-Ireland U21 title last year and they beat Cavan by six points in their quarter final.
The boys have put in a lot of work and although we have a number of injury worries that’s out of our control. Whatever 15 lads take the field on Wednesday night they’ll give their all for the jersey. We’re looking forward to the local derby. A great rivalry has developed between the counties underage teams over recent years and it would be nice to gain revenge for defeat in last year’s Ulster final.
All County Football League
The club season swung into action last weekend with some interesting scorelines.
Bundoran weren’t strong enough for Kilcar who knocked up a big score while Gaoth Dobhair and St Eunan’s shared the points in another high-scoring game. It would appear that the blanket has been removed from a number of game plans but I would expect a change to those scoring patterns as the matches get more important.
I attended the Dungloe versus St Michael’s game and I was very impressed with Dungloe. St Michael’s were disappointing but Dungloe showed great hunger and were well worth the two points.
Elsewhere, Ardara overcame Glenswilly – a good start for Seamus Gallagher’s team as it’s important to pick up points at the start of the season.
Four Masters began life in Division Two with a defeat away to Naomh Columba.
There’s more fixtures on Easter Monday which club players will be delighted about. They’ve been doing the gym sessions, core work and training on poor pitches over the winter months and, at the end of the day, all they want to do is play football. The club scene is where each and every Inter County player first earn their stripes. It’s the bread and butter – although at times it doesn’t feel like it – and you cannot get away from the fact that the club is so important to every parish in the county.
ALL IRELAND CLUB FINALS
Congratulations to Paul Durcan and his Ballyboden St Enda’s team mates on winning the All Ireland Senior Club title at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day. They easily overcame the challenge of Castlebar who were one of three Mayo teams to lose All-Ireland club finals that afternoon.
We all know that Mayo haven’t won an All Ireland in more than fifty years and people talk about the hoodoo but the fact remains that they’ve lost a huge amount of important games at headquarters.
In 2016 alone they’ve lost three All-Ireland finals. Not a great start to the year.