Saturday 10 December 2016

Eugene McGee: Donegal will take beating - and not just in Ulster

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

Rory Gallagher has made Donegal a more flexible team tactically and the facility to relocate key players for specific games is a massive asset
Rory Gallagher has made Donegal a more flexible team tactically and the facility to relocate key players for specific games is a massive asset

Sending a boy on a man's errand has never worked out very well in big Gaelic football games and Armagh found this out the hard way when fresh from Division 3 football they were humiliated by Division 1 side Donegal yesterday.

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Humiliation is a very strong word to use regarding a football game but that is what Donegal inflicted on their opponents throughout the second half of a game that had already been decided at half-time when Donegal led by 1-9 to 0-2.

Instead of maintaining their spectacular attacking play of the opening period, Donegal decided to sit back and make Armagh suffer.

Minute after minute in that second half they owned the ball but rather than looking for scores they simply passed the ball among themselves.

It made for terrible 'entertainment' for the dedicated supporters of Armagh and neutrals but Donegal revelled in it.

Trebled

Imagine Donegal only getting three scores in the second half when they were totally dominant in general play? Had they wished they could have trebled that.

This is a day Armagh football people will not forget for a very long time. Their team never came out of the blocks and the only players who stood up to the mark and were prepared to take on their opponents in the old-fashioned Armagh style were the older members of the side, most notably Ciaran McKeever.

But this day belonged to Donegal and their manager Rory Gallagher. We all knew Donegal had a fabulous selection of high-quality players led by captain Michael Murphy in recent times but what we did not know for certain was would they ever produce their natural skills in a championship game and express themselves fully or would their talents always be curtailed to some extent by the rigid tactical approach perfected by Jim McGuinness. Yesterday we got the answer in the first half and what an exhibition of Gaelic football we were privileged to watch.

Donegal simply played route-one football in that half. They won possession, steamrolled their way to within scoring range and then belted over the scores.

After 25 minutes they led by 1-7 to 0-1 and by half-time the game was over with Donegal holding a ten-point lead.

In terms of close, conservative games in Ulster Championship encounters that was an incredible result and Donegal simply sauntered their way through the second half as Armagh players, followers and particularly mentors had to grit their teeth and pray for the final whistle.

The facility Gallagher had to relocate key players for specific games is a massive asset. Michael Murphy for some strange reason was lodged at full-forward in the recent Tyrone game where he was allowed, and tolerated, dog's abuse but on that day it was the right decision.

Yesterday he was let off his leash, roamed the field, caused panic whenever he went near the ball and, set up many scores and scored some magnificent long-range frees off the ground, a welcome reminder of many of the great perfectionists of that skill in years gone by.

Donegal knew the many weak links in Armagh most notably their full-back line and used direct long balls to capitalise on that, another example of their versatility in tactical approach. There was a time when long balls to inside opponent's full-back lines was anathema to them.

As stated, Armagh played like a Division 3 team and their inability to get good ball into their own marquee forward Jamie Clarke was symptomatic of that. They clearly had no plan B either as like many other county teams that have pre-packed tactics the game plan for each occasion seems to be set in stone by the mentors with no fall-back situation when things go badly wrong - and boy did things go that way yesterday for Armagh.

As regards the famous Ulster 'physicality' in the local championship that we constantly hear about, there was very little sign of that yesterday and what was there came from Donegal.

They are now an experienced, crafty team with many new facets of their play being exploited for the first time.

They will take a lot of beating this year and not just in Ulster football.

Lilywhites' attackers display right approach in replay

If ever there was a game of two halves, then we saw it in Tullamore on Saturday night when Kildare played their replay with Laois.

The first half on a glorious summer evening was a like a flashback to about 20 years ago. The play was fast and open, there was some magnificent high catching from Laois pair Brendan Quigley and Donal Kingston as well as Kildare's Paul Cribbin among others. Long foot-passing was all the rage and two Laois wing-forwards Niall Donoher and Evan O'Carroll both scored three wonderful points from play in that opening period.

Kildare's Padraig Fogarty got some lovely scores and with only a point between the teams at the break we looked forward to an exciting second half between two of Leinster's greatest football rivals.

But, alas, things did not turn out that way and instead we had to endure a football massacre.

Within just four minutes Kildare had scored 2-3 and the game was effectively over at that stage. It was a remarkable sequence and one that Kildare are not very used to experiencing.

The disaster for Laois started when goalkeeper Graham Brody attempted a short kick-out that ended in the back of his net and from there it was all downhill all the way to a very heavy defeat for Laois.

Kildare followers have a habit of over-reacting to big wins like this but after the past few years I believe they have become more reasonable in their assessment of this victory.

Certainly beating Laois in the championship makes it a good year for Kildare but the sobering thought for the Lilywhite followers is that they will now be facing Dublin in the Leinster semi-final.

The approach work of their forwards was of a very high quality, especially Fogarty, Alan Smith and Eoghan O'Flaherty (left) and the Dublin backs will certainly not walk all over them.

But Kildare did kick a lot of bad wides in the first half and that will need to improve against the Dubs.

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