Wednesday 7 December 2016

Tomas Ó Sé: There's no sign of Donegal leaving us to play normal football once more

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

In Michael Murphy, Donegal have the best footballer in the game. He bleeds leadership and he delivered a masterclass last Sunday
In Michael Murphy, Donegal have the best footballer in the game. He bleeds leadership and he delivered a masterclass last Sunday
Kieran McGeeney and Armagh suffered a terrible defeat

No need for an alarm call on Wednesday morning last. A beeping phone quickly told me I'd struck a few chords in the county where I now live and work.

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My comments on Cork football won't have pleased everyone but I was asked a question and just answered honestly. I'm not in this punditry game to stir things just for the sake of it.

I don't take any pleasure in saying it because I know how hard teams work. What I have said is what I feel and I was just being honest with my opinion. If I'm proved wrong, so be it.

The game needs more teams challenging the established 'top four'. It needs the likes of Cork, Galway and Armagh flexing their muscle to better effect. Even Tipperary.

But last weekend the old provincial oligarchs remained untouched, their vast wealth still intact.

Frankly, I was most disappointed by Armagh, probably because my admiration for them and what they stand for goes back a long time to my early days with Kerry.

Kieran McGeeney, especially, is a huge figure in Ulster and my sense of last Sunday was that the steeliness he brought as a player would be reflected in his team.

I thought they'd bring war to Donegal on their own home turf, just as they did in Croke Park last August.

More importantly, I felt they'd have a plan to penetrate Donegal, pull them out of position and use their own effective counter-attacking game to dictate.

Yes, they have been in Division 3 but this Ulster Championship and League status just can't be a comfort blanket for the mistakes they made. Like Tipperary, like Galway, they failed to land a decent blow.

Clueless

The potential for ambush, marked in red since last October's draw, was quickly dealt with.

My God, Armagh were so poor you wonder what they have actually being doing for the last few weeks.

They looked disorganised, out of their depth, clueless on the offensive, made basic handling errors and, perhaps most surprising, were beaten physically in key areas.

I don't say this lightly but, watching it, I was half-embarrassed for them.

Where was the team that pushed Donegal so hard nine months earlier? More to the point, where was attitude, the 'divilment' associated with this and other Armagh teams of the past? They just didn't look wired at all.

Sometimes you had to look twice to see if they even had a sweeper in place. Was it that, last year, they had a cause which carried over from the dust-up in their opener against Cavan? Do they need this type of 'cause' to reach their peak? They shouldn't.

Was it that the extra weight of expectancy that they, above any other team, could take down a 'big gun' too much for them?

I don't care what division they are in, they are much better than they showed. That's why it's disappointing. There will be no one more upset about this than McGeeney and his players. Let's hope they show us the their true colours before the summer is done.

That said, this Donegal team continues to confound. Just when you think they are due a step back they leap a couple forward instead. I thought they'd fall away with tired legs and leave us to get on with normal football again!

Granted it's mid-June and mid-June All-Ireland talk about a team is rife with danger. But they're upping the ante once more and, I have to say, I love what I see.

They are amazing to watch, by far the best in terms of setting up and inviting you to attack and commit too many numbers, then gobbling you up before they counter and destroy.

Their work rate is incredible. If you watch carefully, their half-forwards and midfielders are actually bypassing ball-carriers to slot back around their own '45'.

Rory Gallagher has given them some pep in their step. Jim McGuinness has laid some foundations but this guy, has carried it on and even, dare I say it, invigorated them even more.

In my eyes Donegal, on their day, would have the measure of either Dublin or Mayo and possibly Kerry.

I just don't think it is in the DNA of either the Dubs or Mayo to commit as much as they need to erecting barriers. They haven't shown me that they are capable of mixing patient, organised defence with the attacking impetus you need to pierce Donegal, who want opposition bodies committed.

Kerry are the only team to crack Donegal in their pomp. And but for an out-of-character kick-out that result might have been different. And remember that ball off the Kerry post in the dying seconds? Small margins.

Still, Kerry showed how it can be done by mixing it up.

Compare that to our approach against them in 2012. I got plenty of ball but what were my options? Kick long? No, because there was too much traffic inside and I was too slow letting it off. Carry? Risky too because I was met with that wall.

You need to win midfield and go direct. By that I mean letting it in straight away or punching through with a runner because it's the only time you will have them half-organised back there.

A runner needs support off the shoulder - go long and the receiver can't be isolated. But all the time you need to hold five at the back, just as Kerry did last September.

You can't afford to commit everyone forward and those that do push up must work like dogs to chase the Donegal runners back if things break down.

Not pretty, a game of cat and mouse, I know, but Donegal have forced such pragmatism on everyone.

You must present them with the type of wall they construct themselves, one that limits their use of the long ball like we saw last Sunday because most of their bodies are still behind the ball.

You must slow their counter-attack down sufficiently to allow your own cavalry to get in place to frustrate them.

Easier said than done, of course and you need clever, quick-thinking footballers to pull it off. Donegal do it instinctively and seamlessly at this stage. It takes unbelievable patience, organisation and restraint.

Even then, you are not guaranteed anything.

They have great footballers, footballers now with quick minds operating a brilliant system.

And they have Michael Murphy, the best footballer in the game. He bleeds leadership and he delivered a masterclass in it last Sunday.

His execution of the simple things is something I love about him. His handpassing and kick-passing always blend balance risk and economy perfectly. And don't get me started on the frees!

It's some compliment to him as a footballer that there is consensus now to push up on him even when he drops into that deep position behind his midfield.

You need to nullify him, you need to do a 'Justin McMahon' or 'Aidan O'Mahony' on him, you need to make that sacrifice because he is the most important player on the field.

Such tactics may cause unease but, at this level, it's about winning, first, foremost and last.

To get to the heart of beating Donegal you must to the heart of Murphy first. It's worth making the point again that it's early to be on a pedestal. They've started well but there's a lot of ball to be played. Beware!

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