TWENTY years after winning their last All-Ireland title Donegal maintained their one hundred percent record in Croke Park on AllIreland Final Day as predicted in this column last week.
They just got the better of a gallant Mayo, who must now really be wondering when their luck is going to change on All-Ireland Final Day. Last week I advised Eamonn Fitzmaurice to think long and hard about his management team – well the evidence of what I meant by that was in full view over the past week in interviews by former managers and players. A lot of them went for a Mayo win, which just confirms that they aren't the best judges.
Now having said that, I predicted that Donegal would win by five points and they won by four. I also said that for Mayo to win they would have to ensure Donegal would not get goals – now what a disaster those goals were for Mayo. Moving Kevin Keane to fullback to play on Michael Murphy was a strange call by James Horan. Keane is a natural corner-back and as we know only too well in Kerry, moving corner-backs into full-back is a risky business and so it proved for Mayo.
The first goal was well taken by the Donegal captain. Too powerful for Keane, he just got around him and hit a rocket past David Clarke, but the second goal is what poor young Keane will be having nightmares over. The ball came off the upright, the young corner-back intercepted the breaking ball, but failed to hold it and McFadden said ' thank you very much'. Now a word on that second goal and the important difference a referee's call can make.
In my opinion, Mayo should have had a free in front of goal when Cillian O'Connor was fouled, but referee, Deegan, allowed play continue and the ball goes the length of the field, Donegal get a goal and suddenly Mayo are seven points down. That's why it's important that referees get the calls right. Now I'm not saying that Mayo would have won the game, but it was a devastating blow and, from where I was sitting, a wrong call. That's football, but at this level not good enough.
When they settled Mayo took the game to Donegal well and, for me anyway, showed that this so called 'magic Jim McGuinness formula' (as built up by the media) can well be beaten when Mayo moved the ball down the sides. The Donegal side struggled to deal with it. In fact I think they gave away more frees on Sunday in the scoring zone than they did against Cork and Kerry.
I did say last week too that I would have started Aidan O'Shea at full-forward. Mayo put him in there but just too like Kerry and Cork the ball in to him was going in too straight. Now one has to be fair to Donegal: they are worthy All-Ireland Champions based on the season's play. We have seen some great displays of football from Neil McGee and his brother Eamon at full-back and wing-back.
Frank McGlynn gave us a season of as good a man that ever played at cornerback all season long. Thompson and Karl Lucy had years to remember, while Gallagher and Kavanagh, even though sometimes beaten for periods of games, were the most consistent mid-fielders in the game. Up front, for me, is where the real stars were and I believe that if the people who pick the 'Player of the Year' will have to make their minds up on Donegal men: Colm McFadden this year delivered what we always knew he had – class!
Michael Murphy is the best full-forward in the game for the last few seasons, Bradly and McLoone, the young McBrearty worked very hard for these scoring forwards, but right through the season the young Mark McHugh was outstanding. Now I know the game: the scoring forwards usually get these awards, but from a team perspective McHugh had a great year.
The colour and excitement of both sets of supporters was great to see and an enjoyable game, without ever being great, a lot of mistakes and poor kicking by Mayo, but Donegal won't mind and after twenty years they are deserving All-Ireland winners. So well done to them, we gave them enough grief last year but now they have the last laugh. County SFC WE will start back on the trail to unearth a few players this weekend.
The meeting of Laune Rangers and Rathmore will get us up and running on Saturday. This could be an interesting enough game. Both have patchy form, but I think the Killarney venue might just see Rathmore through. St. Kierans have put a huge effort in this year, but the extra games will do Kenmare no harm. However, I would be surprised if Kierans don't win this. Dingle and Feale Rangers is an interesting one. Dingle are going well in the league and they might just have the edge on the divisional side, but will have to improve on their last outing. The big one. of course, with a strange throw-in time (come on guys), sees the Stacks play the holders Crokes. Now this is one where a surprise is on if the Crokes are without Kieran O'Leary and Eoin Brosnan. The Stacks will put it right up to the Killarney lads. The Stacks are the one club in the county that never fear their Black & Amber rivals. However, I will stick with the Killarney lads. Still based on their trip down to South Kerry the Rock might just surprise a few more of us.