The Donegal-Galway league game in Letterkenny last Sunday was, like the weather, very poor from a Donegal perspective.
Much has been made about the home team’s dismal record in the Cathedral town, but in this encounter when Donegal went into a seven point lead early in the second half it looked as if the myth about an unlucky venue for the home team was about to be allayed.
With new manager Pádraic Joyce at the helm some seemed to believe that building for the future was the key theme in Galway, and that maybe results were less important than learning from Galway’s perspective.
Joyce, who was both an excellent footballer and great competitor, never considered defeat an option as a player and as a manager he still thinks the same way.
Although Galway in the end won by the minimum margin, they could not be accused of limping over the line, because in coming back from that seven point deficit there was much to admire about their play.
This defeat did not dismantle Donegal’s reputation as a team to be reckoned with, but it did show that Galway under Joyce are already an authentic force who will have a major say in the destiny of the Connacht championship, and based on this display it will take a good team to beat them.
Indeed, I believe that when the weather improves in the summer Galway will even be a more potent force on top of the ground, at championship time.
Over the years Galway teams often reminded me of good Down teams in Ulster. They both played a slick brand of football, and both counties seemed to have an uncanny knack of finding class forwards with game winning ability.
Last week we talked about the ability of Shane Walsh and Damien Comer in the Galway attack and the threat they might pose. Walsh was outstanding once again against Donegal.
His ability to adapt to the conditions and deliver under pressure made him the game’s outstanding figure, and his confident assured display was a major factor in his team's victory.
The other Galway player who excelled was Comer, and when Joyce moved him to midfield he made an immediate impact.
It is to be hoped that the loss of both points and the draw with Mayo will not come back to haunt Donegal before the end of this league campaign, but the importance of getting results at home cannot be overstated and this defeat could well put a serious dent in Donegal’s hopes of getting to a league final.
Games to come
With visits to Dublin and Kerry on the horizon and Monaghan and Tyrone due to come to Ballyshannon and Ballybofey the points on offer in those four games will be hard to come by.
Donegal will know that the goals that they have leaked against both Mayo and Galway saw gaps opening in the centre of their defence, and goals win matches, so this is an area where Donegal have much work to do if silverware is to be picked up this year.
Closing out games when in a winning position is also a worry, while some of our younger more talented players seem to lack the consistency required to prevail at this level of football.
While defeat to a vibrant Galway team is not a disaster Declan Bonner must know that the inability to close out games when a winning position is a major concern. It is imperative that the next four games against quality opposition deliver some good results which obviously will go a long way to defining Donegal's season and particulary their league status going forward,
Watching a rejuvenated Monaghan side play so well against Dublin on Saturday night in Croke Park clearly showed that the impression that Banty Mc Enaney’s team were “over the hill” was far from correct as they played exceptionally well.
Monaghan always relish having a crack at Donegal, and our record against them is not great, while Tyrone also impressed is beating Kerry at the weekend, and Cathal Mc Shane’s decision to stay on terra firma and continue to play with his county is a major boost to his team’s prospects for the year.
Donegal, however, still have a panel of top class players in their ranks, but lessons need to be learned and some hard calls may need to be made to ensure a more defensive platform over the coming weeks.
The competitive element of the league this year has made for some compelling football, and the large attendances that have turned out even in such inclement weather dispel the belief among those who seemed to believe that league football didn’t matter.
One area which does need attention is the distribution of black and yellow cards, and umpires and linesmen need to act on what they see off the ball.
Both David Clifford playing for Kerry against Tyrone, and Paul Mannion when introduced by Dublin against Monaghan, were both hassled and pulled like rag dolls by opposing defenders under the eyes of two umpires.
After the referee on both occasions consulted his umpires the result was cards for both Clifford and Mannion which was grossly unfair.
If ever there was a case of you “must go to Specsavers” this was it for the officials involved.
So all roads lead to Croke Park on Saturday week for a game with Dublin. Going to Croke Park is always a special occasion and the evening games under lights always generate a special atmosphere.
Finally, I would like to extend Best Wishes to Christy Dunleavy from Texaco on the Mountcharles Road who was off colour for a few days, but is quickly on his way to a full recovery.
A win for Donegal against Dublin would just be the tonic for the affable Mountcharles man.
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