Wednesday 1 October 2014

Donegal: Human after all

Published 27/06/2013 | 05:26

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1 May 2013; Down Manager James McCartan at the launch of the 2013 Ulster Senior Football & Hurling Championships. Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

SEEING as Daft Punk are the band du jour, we may as well reference their 2005 LP when summing up our feelings about Donegal in the wake of Sunday's Ulster semi-final: human after all.

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The air of inevitability is gone. The mask of invincibility has slipped. Prick them do they not bleed?

Down have done the rest of the teams in the running for Sam a great service (they've likely done Donegal a great service too, but more on that later). They've shown how to beat Donegal. That they weren't able to do so says more about the limitations of the players at James McCartan's disposal than any deficiencies in his gameplan.

It's all very well saying that had they been a little more gung-ho they would have scored more, it just fails to take into account what Donegal would have done at the other end of the pitch had Down done so. The reason Donegal were turned over so often, the reason why Colm McFadden and Paddy McBrearty were so peripherial for so much of the game, was that Down dropped men back and remember it's not as if McCartan's gameplan didn't give the Mourne men the chances they needed to win the game. It did. They just didn't take them.

Which leads one to wonder whether Donegal would have been able to resist a Dublin or a Mayo had they faced them in Breffni Park on Sunday? Soon enough we'll know. Donegal will, more than likely, win the Ulster final. Donegal will, more than likely, play in Croke Park this summer and that's where their mettle will truly be tested. Not before.

Down gave Jim McGuinness plenty to worry about. This is a man who thinks about the game deeply. A man of science and facts and evidence. He'll analyse and debate and discuss the performance with Rory Kavanagh. They'll take what they learned on board. They'll adapt. McGuinness adapted the gameplan before (after the 2011 semi-final defeat to Dublin), he'll adapt it again.

They were without some of their regular starters at the weekend too it shouldn't be forgotten. They were without Neil Gallagher and Karl Lacey and Frankie McGlynn didn't last the seventy minutes. If and when they return they'll be much more like the Donegal of old. It just goes to show how vulnerable to injuries Donegal are.

And who knows, perhaps, after three years on the road, playing an unbelievably instense brand of football, their luck is running out on that score. It happened Tyrone in the noughties, it could be happening to Donegal right now.


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