Saturday 1 October 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Donegal stay composed except in post-match furore

Mayo were brave but the early goals left their weaknesses exposed, says Colm O'Rourke

Published 30/09/2012 | 17:00

THE All-Ireland final ran fairly much to script. It wasn't a particularly good match because there was a certain inevitability about it when the second Donegal goal went in.

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They rode out the storm with reasonable comfort for the last hour.

While Mayo fought with great heart and determination, the goal which they badly needed in the second half never really looked like coming apart from one chance near the end. Without that Mayo goal, the match lacked the sheer drama of last year's final, a fact that will not worry Donegal.

The pressure was firmly on Donegal with a very passionate and expectant support and so whether they limped over the line or gave an exhibition mattered not a jot. The object of the exercise was achieved. For the supporters, the quality of the performance was not a consideration.

Like most big games, the dominant personalities are always the best individual footballers and the gap between them and other players usually widens in a final. The only difference here was that Michael Murphy rediscovered some form after a bad year by his standards. It was not that he dominated possession but he did a lot of things very well. Apart from the goal, he kicked a couple of brilliant frees in the second half which helped keep Mayo at arm's length. Beside him, Colm McFadden had a similar game, clinical on limited ball.

The other foot soldiers performed as expected -- Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Frank McGlynn and Neil McGee were always a bit better than their opponents and Lacey has probably been the best player over the year.

Mayo were just a little less composed. There was no shortage of bravery and there is definitely something to build on with a team that chose to fight rather than collapse, a trait not always associated with Mayo. This time, when another annihilation looked entirely possible, they found something that maybe a lot of these players didn't know they had within them. In that first half, Alan Dillon, Kevin McLoughlin, Lee Keegan and Donal Vaughan really took on the challenge. So too did Barry Moran and Aidan O'Shea at midfield, even if O'Shea showed glaring immaturity by giving away a lot of silly frees when he went in to full-forward.

In fact, the Mayo tackling was a bit Rambo-like at times and several of Donegal's frees in the second half were given away by rank indiscipline. The real test of teams is in being able to hold the head and wait for a change in fortune when things are going wrong. Many of the Mayo players showed inexperience in that regard.

The quality of Donegal's tackling was superior and yet they too gave away close-in frees, something they had been very good at avoiding. Many in the Donegal camp felt referee Maurice Deegan was hard on them at times but it would be fair to say that the general lack of comment on the referee meant he had a good game.

Deegan was helped by the attitude of the players, who went about things in the right spirit. There was some cynicism which was punished by moving the ball forward when quick frees were impeded. I can't understand why he had to carry the ball forward slowly at times like this because it only negated the advantage to the team who had the free. A player should have been allowed to run forward and kick quickly. For all that neither side could have any complaints about the refereeing.

When James Horan has a cold look at this game he will recognise that he must improve his full-forward line for next year. This will have to be done by making the existing players better or getting new ones. The longer the game went on, the easier it looked for the Donegal backs. They are experts at tackling in packs, one man turns the opposition player into another couple of defenders who often turn over the ball and the counter-attack starts.

Horan will also know only too well that putting Kevin Keane on Michael Murphy was a big mistake. This was a job for a far more experienced and physically stronger player. Keane is young and looks to have a bright future and this will make or break him.

In taking everything into account, James Horan will probably feel he is on the right road with this team. With some improvement Mayo have an All-Ireland in them and they deserve respect and credit for fighting the good fight if not winning the war.

Donegal have no such concerns. They won an All-Ireland the hard way, beating the three great powers of the last decade: Tyrone, Cork and Kerry, in the process. The winds of change have come to the GAA. Last Sunday was a marvellous occasion and what Jimmy McGuinness has done could be a template for other counties who might feel slightly inadequate against previous winners. He took a group of players, made them better individually and collectively and in a very short time went to the top. It is quite an amazing achievement.

Yet with all the genuine praise being lavished on McGuinness he chose his greatest hour to sound

a discordant note. It is quite amazing that he refused to partake in a press conference unless a certain journalist left. The first flush of victory should bring magnanimity, not a display of what appears to be rather petty vindictiveness.

After a game, a manager must do what's required of him. He is absolutely entitled to keep his counsel and those in charge in Croke Park, and indeed the journalists themselves, should have said that if he didn't want to conduct a press conference to every one of the accredited journalists present then it would not happen at all. It would have meant the manager's musings not appearing in the papers the next day, but so be it. While McGuinness has been able to bend the players to his will, it does not extend to the free press.

There is no manager or player who has not been offended, greatly or otherwise, by some journalistic comments. Indeed I have been taken to task quite often by some who feel that my written or spoken word was unfair.

There are plenty of forums to do this but after winning the All-Ireland, and all the goodwill that went with it, was not the time. I do not know Mr Bogue, the journalist involved, nor do I have any reason to rake over old coals in the Cassidy affair but what I am certain of is that McGuinness, in the moment of his greatest personal achievement, should have been a bigger man. Perhaps he knows that himself now.

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