No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: Donegal must find a way of playing Donegal!

Colm McFadden is surrounded by Monaghan players in last year's Ulster final.

Colm McFadden is surrounded by Monaghan players in last year’s Ulster final.

ONCE again last Sunday, Donegal saw a mirror image of themselves and were startled.

It’s happened before when they’ve met teams who set up with a similar style. Look at the Ulster final of 2013, the Division 2 League final of last year (both against Monaghan) or the All-Ireland quarter-final with Armagh last year. In each of those, Donegal struggled.


On Sunday, I arrived in O’Donnell Park, like most people, with a fair degree of optimism after the Cork game, even though we nearly let that one slip in the last 15 minutes.

Despite the amount of rain that had fallen, the pitch was in perfect condition. There was a huge crowd there and it had the makings of a great afternoon.

What we witnessed for the next 70 minutes was dire.

As a gauge of how Monaghan set up, Donegal had 14 kick-outs during the game and they were all uncontested. It was reminiscent of the Donegal-Dublin game in 2011.
Monaghan got so many bodies back behind the ball and Donegal just didn’t seem to know how to break them down. They were far too ponderous in getting from A to B.

There were times when Donegal were getting 20 and 30 passes over and back without making any ground. Monaghan were just waiting to pounce when Donegal did decide to go. At that stage Monaghan’s defensive shape was pretty tight and it was so difficult to get through.

Donegal scored four times in the first half, all from frees, and three of those were in the opening ten minutes. We thought in that early stage when Michael Murphy won a ball, won a free and put the free over that the tone was set and Vinny Corey would be dizzy before too long. That didn’t happen, though.

Donegal must have had 80 per cent of the ball in the first half, but they just weren’t direct enough. A couple of points by Monaghan got them back in the game again and at half-time, you could sense that Monaghan were the team on the up. You could feel the frustration from the Donegal supporters, who were becoming very agitated.


You could see the smile beaming on Malachy O’Rourke at half-time. He came, frustrated Donegal, the crowd were getting on their backs and rory Gallagher had a lot of questions to be answered at half-time.

All the talk at half-time was of how poor the game was and how it had to improve in the second half – it didn’t!

I felt if Donegal moved the ball forward they could have caused trouble, but it didn’t happen. A couple of attempted kicks in were very poor. One kick that did go in was from Neil Gallagher, who sold a fine dummy, who punted long and Murphy got the goal. All of a sudden, Donegal were ahead by two points and we think: ‘Yeah, we’ll win it from here now’. We just didn’t kick on.

Donegal went back into the same, slow, methodical system and it was so frustrating to watch.

I don’t think I can ever remember a time when Donegal didn’t score a point from play. I’d say Sunday was one of the lowest scores we’ve ever had. Monaghan did what they had to do – they suffocated the life out of Donegal. People have been on about this all week, but let’s remember that it was Donegal, under Jim McGuinness, who created the system – now we have to find a way of beating the system.

You can just imagine what’s going to happen on May 17th against Tyrone – it will be unbelievably claustrophobic in terms of getting turnovers and scores.

We aren’t like Kerry; we don’t have the players comfortable kicking that long ball into the forward line that will cut out the sweeper. Murphy and Patrick McBrearty can win ball and we have to look at this seriously because it could cost us in the long run.

We have a lot of runners in the team, players who are very comfortable getting passes through hands, but when it comes to getting that killer pass 60 yards to set up a score, we don’t seem to have men who are comfortable. It’s probably not something that’s worked on a lot. Our game is about attrition, turning ball over and breaking. We did that to a degree on Sunday, but we didn’t break with any great pace or intensity. By doing that, all we did was invite the Monaghan defence back in and, by the time we got there, it was a near impossibility to breach their defence.

The day where we have men coming off the shoulder and breaking at pace is the day we are more dangerous. We have got to get players out the field who are capable of playing that quality ball to the inside men from distance. That’s the only way we can open it up.

I’ve never heard as much reaction after a game as I have from Sunday’s. Right through Monday people were calling about it: ‘How bad was that?’; ‘Why have we gone like this?’. The type of football that is out there at the minute is not enticing supporters to come and watch it. There’s no doubt about it.

Should there be something brought in where you must have a certain number of players inside the opposition half? At the minute, it is definitely not a spectical.  The recent Kerry v Dublin game was a good, old fashioned game with plenty of scores and it was open, but last week was so difficult.

As regards this weekend, I think Donegal are going with plenty of hope – despite the concerns outlined above. Kerry will be more expansive than Monaghan were. Donegal definitely have a chance because of the way Kerry play.

I do believe that we can go to Kerry and win. Those players will be hurting after that performance at the weekend. There’ll have been a lot of soul searching done this week in terms of why and how we didn’t get the scores. This week will have been about getting the minds focussed and they’ll be able to fine tune things with the overnight stay in Tralee.

For me, I genuinely think Donegal will cause a surprise and win.

But that doesn’t necessarily fix the problem of how Donegal play against the Donegal system when it’s played the way it should.


IF he plays in Tralee on Sunday, Colm McFadden will equal Brian Roper’s all-time appearance record of 159 games for Donegal. It’s a testament to Colm’s longevity. He has been written off at various stages over the years, but the St Michael’s man goes down as one of the all-time greats this county has ever seen. He’s back on board this year and hopefully he can recapture his form of old. Best wishes to Colm.


THIS year’s Division 1 is mad! If you were trying to use it as a yardstick for Donegal-Tyrone, forget it. After the opening round, Monaghan had beaten Tyrone comfortably in Omagh and Donegal had a good second half against Derry so, that week, we were thinking the pendulum was in Donegal’s favour.

The next week, Dublin beat Donegal and we didn’t play too well, but Tyrone headed for Mayo – who beat Kerry the week before – and dug out a performance, frustrated the life out of Mayo and won the game. The pendulum was back in favour of Tyrone again.

In week three, Derry, with no points, head for Omagh and come away disappointed not to have won. Donegal defeated Cork, who had been flying, and so Donegal were in command again.



Last weekend, Tyrone turned in a big performance at Croke Park and should have beaten Dublin. They played the system well and were denied by a late, late goal. A day later, Donegal turn in that display on Sunday and again we’re left pondering just what’ll happen on May 17.
Suffice to say, the League will have little bearing because of its sheer lack of consistency – and that’s the exact same across all teams in Division 1.


I WAS at the Ulster Vocational Schools Markey Cup semi-final on Monday, a drawn game between Pobalscoil Gaoth Dobhair and St Columba’s Comprehensive from Glenties.

This is the prestige tournament for the organisers, but to have it played on Monday in such awful conditions was just dreadful. There’ve been worse days in terms of rain, muck and what have you, but the galeforce wind that was blowing was so bad that the ball wouldn’t sit for kick-outs, frees or anything.

You could hardly stand in it – there was a 70 or 80km wind blowing down the field! It would have been a travesty had either team lost the game – and it’s great that they both get a chance now in a replay. There are a lot of good players on each side – in total there are around nine of the county minors – so let’s hope they get a better opportunity next time out.
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