BY RYAN FERRY
IT wasn’t pretty, but there are no prizes for style or panache.
The Donegal minor team’s aim last Saturday was to qualify for the All-Ireland Minor semi-final and that is exactly what they did. Mission accomplished.
There’s no point beating about the bush – Donegal’s victory over Roscommon was a horrible spectacle.
Fergal O’Donnell’s Roscommon brought a host of bodies back behind the ball and created a shield on their 45 metre line.
They were out to suffocate the Donegal attack and they managed to do that on a number of occasions.
Of course, Donegal GAA followers cannot exactly turn there noses up at their tactics, considering the success our senior team have enjoyed with a similar system.
Roscommon were there to win and that is the only gameplan that would help them reach that goal.
Declan Bonner’s team are a fancied side, so they will have been expecting to come up against those sort of tactics at some point. They probably didn’t deal with it in the manner that they would have liked. There was a naivety about the way they approached Roscommon’s blanket defence, with their build-up play much to static.
The tight pitch at Markievicz Perk left it hard to get width and Donegal struggled to pierce holes through the Roscommon blanket.
The adverse weather conditions meant that controlling the ball was difficult and that definitely had an effect on some of their turnovers.
There were problems at midfield as well, with Roscommon dominating the breaks in the middle sector.
However, the great concern at the minute is how the minors have developed a tendency to switch off for long spells in the second half.
Against Derry in the Ulster Championship opener, Donegal were in control, but allowed Derry to get a foothold in the game and only two late points secured their passage to the next round.
They were in a great position at half-time in the Ulster final against Armagh, but they did not kill off the Orchard county until Jamie Brennan’s late goal.
Again on Saturday, they really should have dispacted the Rossies with ease when they were six points up with just 15 minutes to go, but were holding on for dear life at the death
This is worrying and the management team will have to sort this issue or they will get caught out eventually.
While it was probably Donegal’s worst display of the year, including league games, there were a number of positives to come from the game, most notably the performance of Cian Mulligan.
The Gaoth Dobhair man was a member of the Donegal’s under 21 panel this season and he was one of Donegal’s best players in the Minor League, yet his displays in the Ulster Minor Championship were a little underwhelming.
However, Mulligan was the man providing leadership on Saturday and he kicked four fantastic points. He was outstanding and really rose to the ocassion.
The defence were solid and any time that you keep the opposition to just five points should be looked upon as a good day at the office.
Yes, they conceded a sloppy goal, but they actually presented the opposition with less goal chances than they had offered in their previous games.
The team showed great desire and committment to get over the line. The players were throwing themselves on every ball, harrying and blocking, and they were playing for each other.
Saturday’s result might lesson expectations too, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While it is great to see people getting behind their cause, they were getting talked up a lot and that was putting extra pressure on their young shoulders.
They will now progress to Croke Park and that will be another big challenge. GAA headquarters can be a daunting place, and Dublin may have an advantage in that they have already played their once this season in the Leinster final.
However, Donegal are a side that could ignite in Croke Park. The wide, open spaces will suit their game and the players will get ample room to showcase their talents.
They are fit and quick and although they are coming up against a highly-rated Dublin team, they are unbeaten all season and they won’t fear anyone.
Saturday’s win was far from spectacular but it could end up being an important triumph.
We knew they were a good team, but what they showed on Saturday was that when they are faced with adversity, they won’t buckle.
They have learned how to win ugly and that will stand to them.