There’s a thin line between success and failure and that was never more evident than in Clones last Sunday.
There’s not much between the top three teams in Ulster – Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal – and when they meet it is generally a very close affair, and that’s the way it played out in this year’s provincial decider when Donegal and the Red Hands went toe-to-toe.
Both counties set up with similar defensive strategies and tried to run the ball. That was never going to lead to a great spectacle, but that’s the way both teams have been playing all year, and they weren’t going to change their approach on the third Sunday in July.
It was always going to be tight, and there were a lot of minor things that swayed it in Tyrone’s favour.
You could point to the fact that they were shooting into the scoring goals in the second half, and that they had the wind. A few breaks also fell their way.
For Peter Harte’s first point of the match, Donegal had brilliantly dispossessed Sean Cavanagh, but the ball hit off Anthony Thompson’s knee and feel straight into the hands of the Errigal Ciaran man, who slotted over. Sometimes you’ve just got to create your own luck.
I felt at half-time, after the referee had brandished two borderline black cards, that we were going to find it difficult to get anything from David Coldrick in the second half.
The Meath official didn’t want to be seen to be handing Donegal the title, and there were a few 50/50 decisions that he didn’t give to us in the second half.
For me, Frank McGlynn was fouled by Jonathan Munroe just before Sean Cavanagh got his second point, while I also felt that Kieran Gillespie got a barge in the back after collecting a pass from Karl Lacey early on in the second half.
Would a free have been giving down the other end? Quite possibly.
Coldrick probably felt under pressure, and I think if one thing came from the weekend, it’s the realisation that we need to get rid of the black card.
It’s an absolute disaster. Cathal McShane hand-tripped Eamon McGee and by the letter of the law, that is a black card.
However, it wasn’t cynical, and didn’t slow Donegal down. It is unjust that someone has their Ulster Final cut short because of that.
The Black Card was brought in to stop cynical play but it hasn’t had the desired effect. Players are quite happy to pull down their opponents rather than concede a goal, as Colm Boyle showed in Mayo’s win against Kildare last week.
It is often said that the one benefit of the black card is that it has got rid of body-checking, but I’m not so sure.
If you look at the Mattie Donnelly incident last week, his hands were up as if to say he wasn’t trying to foul, but was he really trying to move out of the way? We’re also seeing more and more players throwing themselves to the ground trying to get opponents put off the field.
The Black Card has become a laughing stock. There is no clarity with it, and we have to get rid of it. Simple as that.
In saying that, it wasn’t all down to the referee, and Donegal should have pushed on when they were 8-4 up.
There have been question marks over Donegal’s substitutions, but it can be difficult on the sideline at times. You have to have conviction to make big calls, and Rory probably got a few of them wrong last week, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
I’ve laughed at some of the criticism directed at Donegal this week.
I listened to Bernard Flynn on the way back from Clones, and he said he was delighted to see Donegal lose because of the way they played football.
I know Bernard well, but I couldn’t understand that point. What was the difference in the way Tyrone set up?
They probably broke up the field with a bit more pace alright, but they didn’t kick the ball long once in the game.
He said it was a victory for football, but that’s complete rubbish.
It’s a fickle world and if Donegal had held on last week, Rory Gallagher would have been heralded as a hero, and people would have forgotten about their second half showing.
They would have said he got things spot on in the first half, as he did, and got the team over the line in the second period, even when they weren’t playing well.
Mickey Harte would have been heavily criticised for giving Ryan McHugh and Odhrán MacNiallais too much space, but Tyrone won, so that talk was put on the back burner.
The reality is that there wasn’t a lot between the teams, but Tyrone won it because they landed two outrageous late scores from Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte.
You feel that we have left two Ulster titles behind us over the last two years and that won’t be easy for the team to accept.
Some of the younger players have lost three Ulster Under 21 Finals, two Ulster Senior Finals and an All-Ireland Final, and coming out second best in close deciders will have dented their confidence and they might start to doubt themselves.
Hopefully, last week’s defeat won’t have left too much lasting damage, and the team will be determined to bounce back against Cork in Croke Park next week.
People will call for a big change in tactics and personnel but you can’t do that, and if you’re wondering why, take a look at Monaghan’s approach to their qualifier with Longford. Malachy O’Rourke made too many changes and they were caught out.
You can’t alter the game plan that much, but you can look at other attacking outlets and I think they will.
Cork are not the worst opponents to get and they have had a poor 2016, but what they do have is good forwards.
The likes of Paddy Kelly, Paul Kerrigan and Colm O’Neill would grace any team, and Michael Hurley and Peter Kelleher have stepped up from their under 21 side this season and are good players.
You’re going to have to be careful, so I think Rory will keep with his defensive strategy, but they will be looking to break out of defence with more pace and they need to be more ruthless.
It’s going to be hard to lift things, but the season is not over yet. We have a chance to get into the quarter-finals, and the team needs the people of Donegal to stick with them.
The one positive from losing last week is that the minors will now get to play in Croke Park with the seniors, which is fantastic news for them.
The quarter-finals of the Minor Championship is a notoriously tricky stage, as we found out for ourselves in 2014.
We were brought to Markievicz Park to play Roscommon on a wet, miserable day and we had to dig really deep to get over the line. There was real relief that evening and the lads were on a high knowing they were going to be playing in Croke Park.
The current crop of minors will have been bouncing following their big win last week, and they will be thinking that everything is going their way now that they are getting to play their quarter-final in Dublin.
SP Barrett’s team did well to win against Derry, but they will know that they need to improve.
Our half-back line are very effective going forward, but Croke Park is a big pitch and they need to ensure that they don’t leave too many gaps at the back.
I’m sure the management team will have looked at the video, and I know SP was down at the Munster Final, so he will have a fair idea of what to expect from Cork.
It’s going to take a big performance but Donegal are Ulster champions and they will believe that they are going to make the semi-finals, make no mistake about that.
I was lucky enough to have a good vantage point of last week’s game from the press box, but a few season ticket holders have been on to me complaining about their seats at the final.
I’m talking about genuine fans here, who attend all games including McKenna Cup matches and early season league encounters.
One person I was talking to was in Row B in the Pat McGrane stand, and they were actually below pitch level.
What is worse is that they could have got much better tickets if they went to Supervalu, or Centra, or gone to tickets.ie.
The Ulster Council should be going out of their way to ensure our loyal supporters have the best seats in the house, not just throwing them in a corner out of the way.