In an evening to remember in Croke Park the spiritual homeland of Gaelic games Donegal and Dublin served up a high quality game of football in the vital league encounter. The first half in particular was phenomenal.
Donegal’s game plan was working well and the quality of Donegal’s football was top drawer. In the early stages Dublin were racing everywhere. There was no pattern to their game and it was do or die from the five-in-a-row winners as they battled hard to contain the Ulster champions.
The game had an intensity which made for an entertaining spectacle, and my only disappointment was that Donegal did not enjoy a commanding half-time lead because they were by far the better team in the first half and the quality of their football was there for all to see.
This was a physical but not a dirty game, and while I accept that a referee’s job has become more difficult with the advent of all the different cards, umpires and linesmen do not have a challenging task, but on Saturday night one linesman in particular should not have slept well if he analysed his performance.
Late in the first-half, Michael Murphy was fired to the ground under this official’s eyes and his decision to kop out and ignore the incident was a disgrace. Video evidence should be used to view the performance of the men in charge and if they are found not to have the bottle to make basic calls their career should be put on hold.
It is not a coincidence that Kerry player David Clifford was also man-handled by the Tyrone defence before suffering the same fate as Michael Murphy.
Both players were sent off late in those two games which was a disgrace.
Murphy, and Clifford, are along with Galway’s Shane Walsh, the three best footballers in the game at this time and while they are all more than capable of looking after themselves in the physical stakes the least they are entitled to is fair play from the men in black.
This league campaign has a competitive edge and has produced some great football and Saturday’s nights match continued this trend, but there is an urgent need to address the performance of referees, linesmen and umpires because sport has to be fair and equitable and our top players are not getting the respect that their exceptional ability deserves. Donegal played really well in the first 35 minutes of this game.
Hugh Mc Fadden scored an excellent goal to give his team a real boost in confidence in the early minutes and the Dublin attack kicked a number of uncharacteristic wides much to the surprise of their followers.
The Donegal defence hunted in packs and even when the Dublin forwards were patient in their efforts to find the man in the best position to shoot the tackling and discipline of the Donegal back line as a unit was most impressive.
Ryan Mc Hugh was playing like a machine, gliding over the ground, and he wasn’t even out of breath when running back to his position at centre back.
Apart from Mc Hugh, most of the Donegal side were mature, brave and street wise on this occasion, and a team needs all those qualities in abundance against a side of the quality of Dublin.
Before this game, I was of the opinion that we would have a much better idea of where Donegal were at regarding their championship prospects because the attention to detail and strategic innovation that saw Dublin become the most successful team in championship history was always going to be a formidable task for Declan Bonner’s side.
On summing up Donegal games for a number of years now it might seem a little monotonous to continue to acknowledge the excellence of Donegal captain Michael Murphy.
However, the truth is that Murphy was once again sensational against Dublin.
This was an exhilarating display of athleticism, disciplined tackling, point scoring from distance, in yet another man of the match performance and his unselfishness and individual brilliance was the hallmark of this display.
Young Peadar Mogan did very well on his first big day in “Croker” - he scored two good points, showed good positional sense and worked very hard while Jamie Brennan again showed that he is now a quality forward no matter what opposition he faces.
All Donegal followers must hope that his injury late in the game is not too serious and will not keep him out of the Monaghan game in Ballyshannon next Sunday.
It was good to see Paddy McBrearty back in the Donegal jersey, his ability is well documented and no doubt he will create plenty of headaches for the Monaghan defence this week.
Donegal were more than a little unfortunate to concede a late goal which saw Dublin steal the honours late on, but I was hugely impressed with the outstanding performance of Shaun Patton in the Donegal goal. His kicking and distribution was top class, yes the goal was an error, but a mistake in that position is always magnified, and is no different to a missed goal chance at the other end of the park.
Donegal showed great desire in the closing minutes after that set back and only a misplaced pass saw them denied a late equaliser.
I don’t ever remember leaving a game after a Donegal defeat and feeling a quiet assurance that Donegal have the ability to give this year's championship a serious rattle.
The negative in the performance was the number of turnovers that cost scores in the second half, at this level elementary mistakes can have fatal consequences.
To realise their championship ambitions this year Declan Bonner still has a number of difficult calls to make in relation to the make-up of the team for the championship.
The fifteen who lined out against Dublin will not win at national level and I believe that three changes are required to make the side a really potent force in their quest for glory.
Monaghan are going well and they will arrive in Ballyshannon in a positive frame of mind after seeing off Mayo in Clones last Sunday.
Donegal are in bad need of points after last Sunday and before a big home following in Ballyshannon they should win a tough battle.
Once again Donegal fans travelled in big numbers to Croke Park, among those having refreshments in the Croke Park hotel before the game were former Donegal players Finian Ward from Glen, Enda Bonner from Dungloe and Killybegs John Cunningham and his wife Fionnula, and well known Crolly business man Stephen O Donnell, a lifelong Donegal supporter. No doubt they will all be in Ballyshannon on Sunday for the visit of Monaghan.
The game is live on Ocean FM.
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