Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 21 January 2018

Clinical Donegal lack the force of last year

Ryan McMenamin

They say that the best form of flattery is imitation and Down copied Donegal's style of play to a tee and they could well come out of this game with more credit in defeat than they did in victory in the first round against Derry.

It wasn't the best game of football that you will see this summer, but in terms of intensity and the energy levels exerted by both teams, you have to give all the players involved enormous credit.

Down are sometimes portrayed as the aristocrats of Ulster football, maybe mostly from within their own county, but they demonstrated that they can mix it with anybody and they did their best to win ugly.

They threw everything that they could at Donegal, but it still wasn't enough and you have to give credit to the All-Ireland champions, they stuck to the game plan that they know so well and have perfected this last couple of years and when the scoring opportunities came their way they were ruthless.

The fact that they didn't hit their first wide until the 54th minute and their next until injury-time tells it all. Jimmy McGuinness has them programmed to only shoot when there is a score on and that's what makes them so difficult to beat.

People said before the game that if you stop Donegal scoring goals then you are well on your way to victory, but Down managed to do that yesterday and it still wasn't enough. That was due in no small matter to the displays of Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden who really pulled scores out of the top drawer when they were needed most and that was the difference.

While Donegal had a focal point to go to when they needed scores, the same couldn't be said about Down. When the contest was in the melting pot, McFadden in particular stepped up to the plate with a few eye-catching points.

Down, on the other hand, dropped four or five short into Paul Durcan's hands and they were made to rue those chances. They played two inside with Mark Poland operating on the edge of the '45' and while Conor Laverty got on the ball a lot, it was in areas that were never going to hurt Donegal. The Donegal management saw how much possession Laverty was getting and when they introduced Ryan McHugh to man-mark him his influence on the game waned.

Benny Coulter had two great chances for points in the second half and I was surprised that he didn't go for them. Perhaps he was anticipating Neil McGee to close him down, but Benny of a few years ago would have popped those over the bar without a second thought.


Donegal pushed Anthony Thompson up on Kevin McKernan and that limited Down's attacking options as McKernan had been such a threat when going forward from midfield against Derry.

They badly needed an outlet to try and change things around. Donegal have now shown in the two games that they have played that they have strength in depth as they were without Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher, and had to take Frank McGlynn off again. Down the line that will stand to them that they have been able to give players valuable game time, although I believe that they aren't the force of last year and will be punished by a better side.

I still can't see anybody stopping Donegal from claiming three in a row in Ulster. They have a couple of weeks to try and get back to a clean bill of health and I think they will be too strong for either Monaghan or Cavan.

Irish Independent

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