No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Two valuable points secured in Roscommon

It wasn’t straightforward, but Donegal collected two valuable points in Dr Hyde Park last weekend.

With ten minutes to go on Sunday, things were looking very good. Donegal were playing well and had established a three-point lead, with the breeze at their backs.

However, the concession of a second Roscommon goal set up a nervous finale, and the game could have went either way in the closing exchanges.

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It was an exceptional finish from Conor Devaney, but Donegal will not be happy with their defending.

Devaney actually struck the ’45’ and nobody tracked his run. Donegal were too slow to come out and confront him and he used the time and space to his advantage before rifling into the top corner.

The first goal was also disastrous as Donegal hit the self-destruct button from their own kick-out.

Some people were blaming Mark Anthony McGinley, and others were pointing the finger at Mark McHugh. It was probably a combination of both.

Mark Anthony McGinley in action for Donegal last week

Mark Anthony McGinley in action for Donegal last week

McGinley tries to get his restarts away quickly like most goalkeepers do, but it was telegraphed, and Ciaran Murtagh intercepted.

It was a bad goal to concede because Donegal had started the game quite well and that put them on the back foot.

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Donegal trailed by three points at the break, but that wasn’t a huge deficit considering the breeze, and the team used the elements well in the second half.

There were a couple of poor misses, but for the majority of the second 35 minutes, Donegal’s kicking was excellent.
Sixteen points is a good scoring return, and 1-17 against Kerry was good as well, and that will please Rory Gallagher.

However, there will be other aspects of the game that he won’t be impressed with, particularly the defending.

Donegal conceded two goals in Roscommon, and to be fair, Kevin McStay’s team could have got another two or three.

It was the same against Kerry the week before in Letterkenny, as they opened us up at their leisure.

I know Donegal are trying to play a more high-pressing game this year, and that will leave more gaps at the back. However, teams are getting through too easily and that’s something that needs to be addressed quickly.

It’s a new-look team and it’s interesting to see how things have moved on in 12 months.

Ciaran Thompson showed some potential in a couple of fleeting performances last season, but he has raised his game considerably in 2017.

He kicked three points against Kerry, and another three last week in Roscommon, and he’s mad for work on the pitch. He looks like a man who is ready to fill the void left by Odhran MacNiallais.

Martin O’Reilly was quiet enough in the first half against the Rossies, but he stormed into action after the break and helped himself to three good scores.

Some of those points were from difficult angles, and I don’t think he would have even have attempted them last year. He’s taking on more responsibility and is starting to come of age.

Eoin McHugh was another to catch the eye. I know he turned over the ball a few times, but that goes with the territory in the way he plays the match.

Everything happens at 100 miles-an-hour, and than can lead to slips and mistakes.

However, he has a good habit of coming up with scores at crucial times, no more so than deep into injury-time last week.

It was a joy to watch Michael Murphy go about his business on Sunday and he was colossus in the middle of the field.

Roscommon's Thomas Featherstone under pressure from Michael Murphy and Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher.

Roscommon’s Thomas Featherstone under pressure from Michael Murphy and Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher.

There is more balance to the team when he plays out there, and he was like the conductor of the orchestra last week.

He was passing inside, fetching marks, and at one stage, he was the last line of defence and made a great tackle on Enda Smith.

It was interesting that he passed up a number of opportunities to shoot at the posts from frees within his range, and that may mean he’s carrying some sort of knock.

If that is the case, it’s something that Donegal need to be very careful on, because we simply cannot afford to lose the Glenswilly man.

It was important to get two points last week, and I’m sure it will have given everybody in the camp a lift.

They’ll get a rest this weekend, and a chance to regroup before Dublin come to Ballybofey on Sunday week.

To be honest, I see that game as an opportunity. The Dubs didn’t look that sharp against Tyrone, and I think they could be got at.

Donegal have a young team, and there won’t be much pressure next week, as it’s not a game that you’re expected to get anything from.

But I would have some hope, because I don’t think Dublin are anywhere near the level that they will be at in three or four months time.

The good thing is that we will go into that match with two points on the board, and we now have a decent chance of staying in Division 1.


Ulster woes

I was listening to the results on the radio as I drove back from Roscommon last Sunday, and I couldn’t believe how poorly the Ulster counties fared.

It was a terrible weekend for the province, with Donegal the only team to pick up a win in the NFL.

Granted, Monaghan and Cavan drew against each other, and they’ll probably both be happy enough with that, and Tyrone showed well against Dublin.

If it wasn’t for a very harsh red card to Mark Bradley, they probably would have beaten the reigning champions.

The Red Hands are playing at a high level, but I do have doubts about their inside forward line, as I don’t think they’re ruthless enough.

If you think back to Tyrone’s All-Ireland successes in 2003 and 2005, they had marquee forwards like Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan, and Stevie O’Neill.

In 2008, Sean Cavanagh moved into full-forward and that proved to be the catalyst for them going on to win the Sam Maguire.

Their current forwards are all good players, but is there anyone that would really torment a defence like Canavan or O’Neill in their pomp? I don’t think so.

Slaughtneil pulled off a fantastic performance to defeat St Vincent’s in the All-Ireland club semi-final on Saturday, with Chrissy McKaigue producing one of the most memorable displays in recent times.

He managed to keep Diarmuid Connolly to just one point, while scoring four himself. McKaigue could dine off that one for a while!

Those Slaughtneil boys are tough and they know how to grind out wins, which is not something you could say about the Derry senior team.

The Oak Leaf county were hammered by Meath last week, and things are not going well.

Damian Barton has had to deal with a lot of a lot of players leaving his panel, and he has fielded a youthful team in the league so far.

They’re struggling badly, and might not have the Slaughtneil players back at all before the end of the league.

There is also an argument that the Slaughtneil players are not as prominent when they pull on the red and white jersey, and that things just won’t immediately turn around once they do return.

You’d also have to be raising serious questions of Kieran McGeeney and Armagh.

Kieran McGeeney

Kieran McGeeney

They have thrown away five and six point-leads over the last two weekends, and now look unlikely to make it out of Division 3.

When McGeeney played for Armagh, they were hardy men who would have done anything to win. But the current crop are soft.

Down are well and truly in crisis mode. Eamonn Burns hasn’t won a match in league or championship football since he took on the senior job 16 months ago.

They have been well beaten by both Fermanagh and Clare in the first two rounds, and all does not appear right in their camp.

The Kilcoo players don’t seem to be interested in playing, and some of the boys that are lining out for them now are just not up to it.

It’s sad to see such a proud county like Down struggling so badly, and they need to act quickly because they are in free fall at the moment.

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