No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: You have to work hard to win in Donegal

We now have our Senior, Intermediate, and Junior champions and the one thing we can say for certain, is that if you want to win a championship in Donegal, you’ve got to be prepared to work very hard for it.

There were one-point winning margins in the Junior and Senior deciders, while the Intermediate crown was only handed out after extra-time in a replay.

There were three clear favourites going into those finals, but out of that trio, only Downings managed to get over the line, and it was a struggle for them as well.

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One thing that struck me over the last few weeks is just how important momentum and peaking at the right time is when it comes to winning championships.

Both Kilcar and Milford have impressed this year, but they’ve had long seasons.

Kilcar had to be ready for their first championship game with St Eunan’s in May, while Milford went on a great run in Division 2.

While they were doing that, Glenswilly and Burt were waiting in the long grass, ready to pounce at the business end of the year.

They both timed their runs to perfection and when the time came to go to battle, they had the belief that they would upset the odds.

There weren’t too many pundits predicting that Glenswilly would win the championship, and when they just about edged past Malin in the semi-finals, everything pointed to a Kilcar victory in the decider.

However in many ways, it was the perfect way for Glenswilly to go into the final.

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Kilcar were excellent as they got past Naomh Conaill in the semi-final, but they showed their hand, and Michael Canning and his backroom team knew what to expect from them.

That triumph put huge pressure on Kilcar. It made them raging-hot favourites, and it’s always difficult to put two super performances like that back-to-back, especially on the big day.

County finals are not like other games. They’re a completely different animal entirely.

Glenswilly are a battled-hardened team and they felt they were disrespected in the build-up.

Cathal Gallagher in action in last week's Donegal SFC Final

Cathal Gallagher in action in last week’s Donegal SFC Final

The one bit of luck they did get was with the weather. The more it rained, the better it was for the Glen men. They love nothing more than a dogfight and that’s what transpired last week.

On the other hand, Kilcar didn’t want a wet day. It doesn’t suit their style and they hadn’t come up against it in the championship this season, when they grew accustomed to calm conditions.

You have to hand it to Glenswilly because they got their tactics spot on and played the game on their terms from start to finish.

They dictated the pace of the game and they slowed it when they had to slow it, and didn’t allow Kilcar to get into their stride.

It was important from Glenswilly’s perspective that they didn’t allow the match to become a free-flowing contest, because that suits the McHughs, Ciaran McGinley, Andy McClean, and co.

Glenswilly stopped the play up the field and conceded yardage, and ensured that they got back to their own ’45’, where they set up their defensive strategy.

It takes huge discipline to pull off that type of game plan and not just from eight or nine players – you need everyone on the same page pulling their weight.

The big trump card that Glenswilly had was Michael Murphy, and the Donegal captain was outstanding last week.

Did Kilcar play into his hands by leaving him one-on-one with Conor McShane? You’d have to say so.

Neil Gallagher knows when to kick inside to him, and it doesn’t even have to be a brilliant ball – as long as it is near Murphy, he will do the rest.

Glenswilly are blessed to have Murphy. Most teams play a full-forward and if they kick in ten balls, they’d be doing well to get one or two scores from it.

However, Murphy’s return is a lot higher than that and he caused havoc last Sunday. His goal was sheer class, and his free-taking was exemplary, while his workrate on and off the ball was an example to all.

You have to give huge credit to the Glenswilly club. They were playing Junior football 15 years ago, and now they have three senior titles to their name.


Intermediate champions

Burt were also celebrating an historic victory this week as they claimed their first ever Intermediate title last Saturday with a victory over Milford.

Much was expected from Milford but they couldn’t get over the line. They led in both matches by three points with time nearly up but they didn’t close it out.

Burt played things very well in the lead-up to both the final and the replay. They heaped the pressure on Milford by saying they were a Division 1 side and were huge favourites.

But Danny O’Donnell’s side are not a Division 1 team until next year. They haven’t played against the likes of Kilcar, or Glenswilly, or Naomh Conaill this season.

The previous meetings between the clubs have always been close and Burt believed they could win and they did.

Much was made of Burt’s defensive set-up and Milford struggled on both days to break it down. You’d have to give huge credit to Ronan McLaughlin for making his team so organised and disciplined.

Christopher McDermott (Burt) takes on Milford's Paddy Peoples

Christopher McDermott (Burt) takes on Milford’s Paddy Peoples

He also encouraged his side to be brave in attack, and that was a huge part of their win.

Conor Harkin drove forward to win a penalty and force extra-time, and Paul McHugh was outstanding in the additional twenty minutes, landing two stunning points.

There were great scenes at the end of the match, and it was just disappointing that they were out in the Preliminary Round of the Ulster Club Intermediate Championship 19 hours after their victory.

It was always going to be very hard to get the bodies and heads right in such a small time scale, and I think they were right to go out and enjoy their victory on Saturday. Big wins like that don’t come around too often.

People have been saying to me this week that the clubs in Donegal were to blame because they knew when these fixtures were scheduled for, and didn’t create a fuss.

Others point the finger of blame at the Ulster Council for sticking rigorously to their dates, especially when this weekend is free.

Burt are the unlucky victims this year and it was Cloughaneely in 2014. It will happen again unless we take action and ensure that club footballers are treated better.


2017 Championship Draw

There are two things you want when the championship draw is made. Number one is to avoid the preliminary round and the second thing is to get a home draw.

Donegal were happy on both fronts, and they got the added boost of drawing Antrim, who are considered to be one of the weakest counties in the province.

I’d imagine Rory Gallagher and his players will be delighted and while they obviously won’t be underestimating Antrim, they will be gearing themselves up for a semi-final clash with Tyrone or Derry.

At the moment, Derry look to be in disarray, so you’d have to expect a Donegal-Tyrone semi-final which will be tasty.

It will be interesting to see how Mattie McGlennan gets on with Cavan, but they will have to improve a good bit if they are going to compete for honours.

Are Monaghan as good as they were? I don’t think so, and I’d imagine they will lose some of their elder statesmen to retirement as well.

The Farney county have been drawn in the Preliminary Round and I think they’ll find it hard to land the Anglo Celt Cup coming from there.

For me, the 2017 Ulster Championship will be won by either Tyrone or Donegal.

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