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Saturday 30 August 2014

Colm O'Rourke: Only an All-Ireland can prove McGuinness right

Donegal's hard graft has worked so far but it doesn't make them the finished article, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Published 12/08/2012 | 05:00

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If Donegal are an acquired taste for many in the GAA world then people had better get used to it. This is the new football. A more defined or refined version of what Tyrone first introduced a decade ago which can work just as well with players of various abilities.

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Donegal have nothing like the individual talent of Tyrone at their best but few teams ever had. What this system shows is that it can work with every group of players.

The natural progression is that club teams all over the country will start mirroring this type of game. In point of fact it probably is happening to a greater or lesser extent anyway -- and before Donegal arrived on the scene -- so blaming a new defensive game on Donegal is wrong. If anything, Dublin can be even more conservative; their half-backs seem to shun attack altogether although Kevin Nolan did break out last week to score a great point when Dublin needed it. James McCarthy also moves up occasionally but the emphasis is on keeping the door bolted, while Karl Lacey, the Donegal centre-back, seems to be freed up from a tight-marking role to attack at will from the Donegal half-back line.

In a more positive light, Donegal have shown to clubs and counties at all levels that if everyone is willing to bend to the collective with a discipline and fanatical commitment then almost anything is possible. The caveat here is the word 'almost', because Donegal have not won an All-Ireland which marks players and teams down as different. Whether Donegal have enough class players on top of their system will be tested more severely in the semi-final but anyone from Cork who thinks they will just over-run Donegal with sheer physical power needs to think again. The sight of Cork rampaging straight down the middle as they did against Kildare without a back in sight is just not going to happen.

This may be the end, or a new beginning, for Kerry and a long bus journey home after a defeat in a big game is not the best time for drawing rational conclusions. Over the last decade we have had the privilege of watching some of the best footballers ever wear green and gold in Croke Park. Some may go quietly into the night but if a player still enjoys the game there is no reason to retire. There is generally a macabre interest after these sort of games in asking big-name players and managers if they are retiring. It should not happen -- everyone at this level deserves time and space to make their own decisions.

Kerry are not the side they were a few years ago and when they lost Bryan Sheehan and Eoin Brosnan through injury, they were not altogether doomed but sinking slowly. With Sheehan out of the equation, it meant no long-range free-taker and Donegal's fanatical tackling can mean a lot of frees with some referees. Some may argue differently but I feel conditions suited Donegal too as they are willing to throw their bodies into every situation where there is even a remote chance of breaking the ball away from an opponent. Cork will be praying for a heatwave as the ball will stick to hands a lot easier and their dominance in the air, which they normally have over all opponents, materialises.

Kerry and every other team need to be in front of Donegal in the second half as they are so hard to break down. They must be the only side where a one-point lead is a big advantage. The freak goal at the beginning ensured Kerry were always chasing and this goal showed two things. One is that if you put the ball into that area there is a chance of something happening while the second lesson for backs and goalkeeper is to go for the ball and never mind the forward.

Jack O'Connor had plenty of advice from all angles about whether he should stay or go, and the subs he brought on. What a difference a couple of weeks make, after the highs of the win over Tyrone in Killarney. The only thing I ever feel about Kerry is that their best player, Marc ó Sé, is a bit of a prisoner in defence and if they want a man to influence a game when it is drifting, then they should be getting him out the field. Whether you lose by one or ten is immaterial but there are times to just throw caution to the wind. In the new Kerry adventure, Marc ó Sé will be central and his older brother did not do much wrong either last week.

But don't cry for the Kingdom. They might even be about to experience the problems of all other counties and will appreciate the brilliance of those who have driven them over the last decade all the more.

This time last year Dublin were in the groove. At the moment they are far from it and have not played well in any big game this year. They look a little flat and it would take a fair bit of bravery to decide to do a lot less on the training pitch.

The usual response to bad performances is to work harder, but that is not the problem with Dublin -- there is no lack of honesty of effort.

Laois tied the Dubs up easily enough but showed little inclination to really attack. If you don't score

from play in the second half, it is hard to win even if the new philosophy is to get defending right first. Laois had no balance and did not commit more men forward when the game was on the line in the last quarter. Again resources can dictate the approach and Laois are short of forwards, just like about 30 other counties.

The collapse of Down and Kildare is hard to fathom, especially Kildare as they are usually so well organised that they at least keep the score down. The most impressive performance of the weekend was from Mayo and it is a great pity that the price was so high with the injury to Andy Moran, a man who has toiled earnestly and honestly on good days and very many bad ones.

League and now championship performances under James Horan have shown low-key progress, a contrast to some Mayo sides of the past. They won't lose the run of themselves under this regime and are a team of the future as well as the present.

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