No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Disappointing night in Derry

30 March 2016; Ruairi McGlone, Tyrone, in action against Eamon McGrath and Ciaran Gillespie, right, Donegal. EirGrid Ulster GAA Football U21 Championship, Semi-Final, Tyrone v Donegal, Celtic Park, Derry. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

30 March 2016; Ruairi McGlone, Tyrone, in action against Eamon McGrath and Ciaran Gillespie, right, Donegal. EirGrid Ulster GAA Football U21 Championship, Semi-Final, Tyrone v Donegal, Celtic Park, Derry. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

There was disappointment for my under 21 side on Wednesday night as we fell short against Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final.

It’s a hard defeat for us to stomach because we felt we played well, but we just didn’t take our chances.

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We dominated the first half and everything we had worked on and planned for, was falling into place.

We pushed up on Sean Fox’s kick-outs and we were disrupting them and not allowing Tyrone to stamp their authority on the game.

But when you are on top like that, you have to press it home, and the cold, hard facts of it is that we didn’t take full advantage.

We kicked seven wides in the first half and Andrew McClean also missed a goal chance.

We could have been out of sight at half-time, yet we only had a two-point advantage.

Jamie Brennan had another glorious opportunity straight after half-time, but the goalkeeper saved his effort.

Championship football can be cruel. It was well documented that we have been preparing without three of our most accurate attackers in Darach O’Connor, Rory Carr, and Lorcan Connor.

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We couldn’t afford to be without players of that calibre, but you have to get on with things, and to be fair to our lads, their character cannot be questioned.

When Tyrone hit 1-2 at the start of the second half, our team battled back and Conor Doherty scored a fine goal.

The game turned midway through the second half when we lost our two midfielders – Caolan McGonagle and Stephen McMenamin – at the exact same time.

Both players were called into the senior squad at the start of the season, and were very important players for us.

Bruce Waldron was also sent off soon after, and it was always going to be a very difficult assignment with only 13 players.

Tyrone made the most of their extra players and got their forwards on the ball.

I thought Conor Morrison did a terrific marking job on Lee Brennan, but when the game opened up, Brennan was able to get the space he needed, and he scored some excellent points.

I have to say I was very proud of my team because they kept going right to the end.

Everything was going against them, but they refused to cave in, and we reduced the deficit to only three points when Stephen McBrearty scored a penalty.

It was a massive effort from our boys, but there was just too much to do.

You have to take your hat off to Tyrone. They are a quality team and we wish them well in the Ulster Final.

It was a tough night for our lads, but we know that if you are going to win big championship matches, you have to be more clinical than we were.

Opportunity missed against Dublin

Last Saturday’s game with Dublin wasn’t one for the purists, but that didn’t come as a huge surprise to me.

After shipping 1-19 against Roscommon, Donegal were always going to tighten up defensively, especially when they were going to face the best attacking side in the country.

Looking back at the game, it was perhaps an opportunity missed.

Dublin were already through to the semi-finals before the game, and they went into the match without two of their most important players in Stephen Cluxton and Diarmuid Connolly.

Their first choice full-back Rory O’Carroll has left the panel, and I thought it was a chance to send Michael Murphy into the edge of the square, and see if we could get enough quality ball into the Glenswilly man, because there’s no doubt that he could have caused damage to their backline.

But you can understand why Rory Gallagher set the team up the way he did.

Firstly, keeping the score down was going to all but guarantee your spot in next year’s Division 1 which is the primary aim.

Secondly, when Dublin get into their stride, they are a fantastic offensive unit, and you’re going to come out second best if you let the game develop into a shoot-out.

While it might not have been pretty on the eye, Donegal’s tactics were effective and they were in a good position before Michael Murphy was sent off.

I thought it was a harsh dismissal. For his first yellow, John Small was running with the ball and lost possession.

Murphy just stood his ground, and Small clattered into him. Where exactly was the Donegal skipper supposed to go?

Saturday’s game demonstrated once again, the influence Murphy has on the Donegal team.

It reminded me of last year’s league game with Cork in Ballyshannon when the Murphy was also dubiously sent off. Donegal were cruising, but without their leader, they lost their way, and it was a similar story in Croke Park.

There was only a point in it when he went off, but you never really felt like Donegal were going to win after that, and Philly McMahon sealed Dublin’s win with a well-taken goal.

Kieran Gillespie came in for his league debut, and you would have thought he was a seasoned campaigner such was the quality of his performance.

26 March 2016; Denis Bastic, Dublin, in action against Kieran Gillespie, Donegal. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

26 March 2016; Denis Bastic, Dublin, in action against Kieran Gillespie, Donegal. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Mark Anthony McGinley also came in for his first start, and it was a difficult 70 minutes for him as Dublin pressed up on his kick-out.

The St Michael’s man is a fine goalkeeper, but that was a huge step-up for him last week, and he should be better for it.

We were still missing some vital players. Neil McGee who has been the backbone of that Donegal defence over the last decade was absent, and there is a big hole in the team when he’s not playing.

There’s also no coincidence that Donegal have lost their three games that Frank McGlynn has not participated in. He’s a hugely important ball carrier, and Donegal have missed his calming presence on the team.

Donegal will hope to have the Glenfin man back this weekend for their clash with Monaghan, which should be a dour, Ulster battle up in Castleblanyey.

I lost twice at that venue as a player, and it was never a place I had any great fondness for.

Monaghan, like ourselves, are on a bad run at the moment, and they were well beaten by Kerry last week.

Malachy O’Rourke’s team won their first two games, and were being talked of as genuine contenders.

Both teams have had a bit of a lull towards the end of the league, and for nothing more than morale, they will both be keen to win this weekend.

No team wants to go into the championship in poor form, and it would give the whole Donegal squad a big boost if they could get back on the horse and win this weekend.

A victory puts us into the semi-finals would be great, but I feel more importantly, it would finish the league campaign off on a high, and will allow the team to head into the summer on the right footing.

Final Day Drama

There’s a number of big games in the League this weekend and there could be drama on the final day of fixtures.

Mayo had a good result over Roscommon last week, and they are getting stronger and stronger with every outing.

They need to put a big score past Down this Sunday and they will feel that they can do that.

Cork have plenty to play for this weekend as well, as they could still be relegated or promoted, and I’m sure Kerry wouldn’t mind sending them down.

Laois, Armagh, Meath, and Fermanagh could all be relegated in Division 2, and it should be an exciting day in that league.

Points difference could be crucial in the end up, so I would expect to see teams pushing hard right to the final whistle.

My bet for this weekend is Down +9 (10/11), Kerry (8/15), and Donegal (Evens).

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