Former Donegal forward Brendan Devenney will be part of the BBC team covering today’s crucial Division One meeting with Mayo at MacCumhaill Park.
He’s looking forward to this weekend’s action and believes that Declan Bonner’s men have enough in the tank to secure a narrow win over Mayo, a result that would be good enough to maintain their top flight status.
“It’s a massive game and I’m just thankful that it’s being played in Ballybofey. We badly need the points and we have a chance given the manner in which Mayo were beaten last weekend. It’s in MacCumhaill Park, a venue where we haven’t lost since 2010, but we still need to get a few of the more experienced men back,” he said.
“If we can get the three Kilcar boys (Patrick McBrearty, Ryan and Mark McHugh) back and maybe even Neil McGee I think that will swing things in our favour,” Devenney said.
The former inside forward has been very impressed by the start McBrearty has made to the 2018 season while he’s also encouraged by the form of both Jamie Brennan and Niall O’Donnell.
“There were times in the Monaghan game that we showed a real spark up front which is very encouraging given the fact that McBrearty will only strengthen the options in there on his return. Put Murphy (Michael), Brennan and O’Donnell into the mix and suddenly there’s real scoring power.
“I was glad to see young Niall (O’Donnell) engage his man last week and take him on. He has the skills to burn opponents up. He’s well able and he showed as much against Monaghan,” he said.
It’s at the other end of the field however where Donegal have struggled most this year but, again, the former St Eunan’s player, believes that those short-comings can also be rectified ahead of the summer.
“We haven’t got the mix right just yet but some people are underestimating the importance of experience. If you have Neil (McGee) and Paddy (McGrath) back, combined with the pace of the likes of Eoghan Ban (Gallagher) and Caolan (Ward) together with Leo McLoone, Frank McGlynn and Anthony Thompson we won’t be too bad,” he said.
The Naomh Conaill pair of Thompson and McLoone rejoined the panel this year.
“McLoone has played well in a few games and if you have him sitting in and around the half-back line in front of McGee, McGrath, Eoghan Ban and Caolan with the likes of MacNiallais (Odhrán) and McFadden (Hugh) in and around the middle – with Murphy able to go in and out – Ryan McHugh, McBrearty, Brennan and maybe O’Donnell inside you have the makings of a good team. The strength-in-depth is not there yet but it we can get the guts of them out against Mayo I think we might be alright,” he said.
Looking back at Donegal’s league season to date, Devenney said that while there were encouraging signs they have yet to put a consistent, solid seventy minutes performance together.
“We conceded 2-2 without replay against Tyrone and 1-3 to Monaghan in and around half-time and that, especially when you’re playing Ulster opposition, is effectively game over,” he said.
“We’ve had decent spells in most games but we’ve still a lot of lessons to learn. For Tyrone’s two goals for example we had at least three defenders between the ball and goal. You can’t concede goals like that,” he added.
The GAA pundit was also quick to commend Donegal manager Declan Bonner for the way he is trying to encourage his team to play the game.
“Football was dying a death in Donegal. It reached the stage that many county footballers were simply workhorses and people no longer want to see games where players simply run up and down the pitch all day. They want to see class forwards being forwards and creative players doing things off the cuff,” he said.
Looking at our near neighbours Tyrone, Devenney said that each and every one of their players were defenders first and foremost.
“The Donegal lads are back enjoying their football and you can see that, whereas in Tyrone, lads like Darren McCurry are walking away from the squad. You’ve got to have the guts to allow the players to use their skills,” he said.
Donegal have also lost players this year but Devenney feels that the press have ‘made a meal’ of those defections.
“Michael Carroll’s young and he’ll be back; Peter Boyle was third choice ‘keeper and I wouldn’t be happy in that position while Eoin McHugh has had a sickness. There’s been much talk about the commitment being way too high for county players but from what I see the Donegal lads are enjoying what they’re doing,” he said.
Looking forward to the Mayo game, Devenney said that it all depends on who’s back for Donegal before he could call the game.
“Patrick (McBrearty) is the huge one and if we have both Mark and Ryan (McHugh) available we might be able to release Michael Murphy inside more with Jamie Brennan feeding off them both,” he said.
Win, lose of draw on Sunday, Donegal’s focus will quickly move on to the upcoming Ulster Championship meeting with Cavan.
“Tyrone and Monaghan are on the other side of the draw and I think we’re in with a fighting chance of being in the Ulster final. If it comes to that we’re not too far off either team although they will both be more settled and experienced but we need to look no further than Down last year. They brought a bit of energy and freshness to the table against Monaghan and I think we’ll have that this time around,” Devenney said.
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