Friday 22 November 2019

Eugene McGee: A day of domination

Eugene McGee

When favourites lose a big game in Croke Park the winners often do not get the credit they deserve -- as those who have tipped the favourites tend to blame the losers more than praising the winners.

It would be a huge injustice to deal with the Donegal-Cork game like that because the dominant component of this game was the well-structured organisation of the winners and the methodology of their manager Jim McGuinness.

This game was dominated from start to finish by Donegal and, as has happened in all their games this year, when the team got a grip on their opponents from the very start it soon became a vice-like grip which eventually reduced the Cork players to a scarcely believable level of mediocrity.

That is the hallmark of a really good team and it would be only a fool who would back either Dublin or Mayo to beat this Donegal team in the All-Ireland final.

This match was dominated by the positivity of Donegal and their daredevil attitude to every aspect of their game.

They were far keener and braver in contesting the ball in open play, they dominated the midfield in an ever-increasing show of strength by Neil Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh, and, above all, they wanted to win the game far more than Cork.

Indeed for most of the second half it became obvious that one by one the Cork players more or less threw in the towel, seemingly unwilling, or more likely unable, to work out why their opponents were totally dominating.

Cork football teams in their history have often succumbed to such behaviour but the shock this time was that it took place despite the calibre of players at their disposal.

It was astonishing to see the likes of Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh being reduced to the role of spectators as this game wore on while the much-lauded Cork forwards seemed totally unable to change their style to cope with the presence of additional players in the Donegal backline.

McGuinness showed his bravery by changing the Donegal attack from previous games -- instead of having Michael Murphy as a provider of scores, he lined out alongside Colm McFadden in a two-man full-forward line, usually stationed close to the goals.

This paid handsome dividends because they are two such talented players who are full of self-belief, particularly McFadden.

You always know a team is likely to win when their players are constantly dispossessing opponents and this Donegal did with almost monotonous ease whether the ball was in the air, close to the ground or on the ground.

In every tight contest between several bodies for a breaking ball, you could be sure that Donegal players would come out on top.

Eventually, one by one, Cork players began to surrender in the face of such fanatical intensity. It was amusing at times to hear people talk about Donegal's short-passing game under McGuinness as if it was a revelation on a par with the third secret of Fatima.

I have never known the county to play any other way apart from the short game over the years and isn't the Donegal full-back in the All-Ireland final of 1992, Matt Gallagher, legendary for apparently never having kicked the ball in that game? Donegal still beat Dublin in that final by the way.

The difference nowadays is that the short passing employed by Donegal players is for clearly defined purposes, usually to help their augmented backline get the first few plays away from opponents so that the ball can be moved downfield at great pace while opposing forwards are still wondering 'how did they get away with that?'


Once you have opponents asking questions like that, you are well on the road to victory.

This was a very bad day for Cork football because they were made to look much worse than they are. From the time they started hitting kick-outs to defenders instead of trying to place their previously excellent midfielders, one felt that there was little belief among the team.

The number of times Cork players actually won possession, particularly in the first half, only to spill it away as Donegal players pursued them like a terrier with a rat was amazing and epitomised the difference in killer instinct between the teams.

Cork made life easy for their opponents by deciding to play the short game with a series of handpasses being used to progress towards the Donegal goals rather than fast-moving kick-passing. We had thought there would be a contrast of styles in this game, short passing versus the more traditional mainly kicking game, but that's not the way it worked out.

Cork turned their back on their own game to try to match the Donegal way and simply played right into the hands of McGuinness's players.

Donegal could have won more convincingly but for the many bad wides they had from leading players, something that might yet come back to haunt them.

But the crucial thing for any team playing Donegal is get into a lead of four or five points as that would put pressure on Donegal that they have not had so far this year.

In the meantime, they can enjoy a great performance and celebrate their arrival into their second All-Ireland final, when emigrants from all over the world will descend on Dublin whether they have tickets for that final or not.

Nobody quite knows how to celebrate like Donegal people.

Looking ahead to next year at this stage the new Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice must have been smiling after this result. Munster football may well have taken another unusual turn that will not do the Kingdom any harm!

Irish Independent

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