Thursday 17 January 2019

Masterclass from McGuinness and Donegal players

It was a fascinating weekend of football and what we got was two games that saved this year's championship. On Saturday Kerry booked their place in the final after an extraordinary game against Mayo at the Gaelic Grounds.

I am sure that after the final whistle on Saturday they were already starting to prepare for another crack at Dublin but Donegal produced one of their greatest performances to knock that on the head.

It would be fair to say that no one saw this coming but in Jim McGuinness, the game has an extraordinary manager who is a trainer, manager and psychologist all rolled into one.

It must be said that he also has an outstanding group of players at his disposal. A group of men who are absolutely committed and are comfortable with the game-plan and tactics that have served them so well over the last four seasons.

The ultra-defensive system that shocked everyone in 2011 has developed into a very organised and ruthless attacking game, which produces the important scores at just the right time.

Who would have thought that Donegal would score three goals against this Dublin defence - and it could have been one or two more.

The third goal by Colm McFadden was literally walked into the net and it was this score 12 minutes into the second half that broke the Dublin spirit and allowed Donegal to control the rest of the game.

The Donegal players deserve huge credit for the way they approached the game and the single minded way they dealt with everything Dublin threw at them in the opening 20 minutes.

Dublin were outstanding in that period, with eight of the best points seen in Croke Park for a long time, and it looked like everything was going according to plan. But they just couldn't put enough daylight between them and Donegal.

In the 20th minute Philly McMahon kicked a great score to put five between the teams but Donegal finished the half stronger.

Michael Murphy, who had another huge game, stripped the ball out of Michael Fitzsimons' arms and Colm McFadden was able to get the ball to the incoming Ryan McHugh, who finished low under Stephen Cluxton.


That was a huge score for Donegal and it allowed the team to go in at the break with a lead.

I was still confident that the Dubs would find a way because they had scored ten points in the first half, all from play and with the game opening up in the second half and all the quality on the bench to bring in, I believed they could manage another ten points in the second half.

The problem was that they couldn't keep the scoreboard ticking over and were conceding too easily at the other end. Nobody believed that Donegal would manage to score what they did but credit must go to their forwards who were immense.

McHugh finished with two goals and a couple of points and he could have made it a hat-trick of three-pointers in a Man of the Match performance.

His work rate yesterday was exceptional and Dublin had no one to minimise his influence. The result shows us all that nothing is certain in sport. Dublin have been terrific champions and have a group of players that will be around for a few years to come.

It is never easy to lose in the semi-final but they will learn from this experience and come back stronger next season. The result means that the work at grass roots level needs to continue to ensure that we keep producing the talent every year.

The final itself will be a memorable occasion and who would back against Donegal winning a second title in three years. Kerry of course will be very confident but they have struggled in the past against northern teams that come with a defensive plan. A game to really look forward to.

One has to feel sorry for Mayo, who really should have closed the deal in the first game. But as happens so often, the team that got out of jail bounced back to win it.

The game itself was very exciting and could have gone either way but in the end it was the craft of Kerry that enabled them to get the important scores when it counted most and after being completely written off at the beginning of the year, they are now slight favourites to regain the championship.


They are there on merit and have proved in the last few games that at times tactics go out the window and the simple game plan is often the best way to go.

Kieran Donaghy is around a long time and has got very little game time this season but in the last two games his contribution has been hugely significant.

In the drawn game he dragged his team back from the brink and on Saturday he was immense from the start, winning primary possession and creating a bag full of scores.

He has another three weeks to improve his fitness and the incentive of playing in another All-Ireland final will certainly make things a lot easier for him and his team-mates.

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