Sunday 17 December 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Monaghan have to keep their cool but it won't be easy when champions' three amigos raise the temperature

Donegal have more options than their Ulster rivals.

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A day for factor 50, a big hat and plenty of water. And that is just the players. The open terraces in Clones and Castlebar today will be dangerous places for spectators, or at least those who don't take proper precautions in the heat. It will be hugely demanding of players in every way; every tumble on the hard ground will send a shock through the body, the feet are likely to blister and weighing the players before and after the game would be an education.

The plan should be to replace the fluids that have been lost in sweat, even if doing so after the match is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Anyway, teams have such scientific advice that a balance is kept in taking fluids on in the days and hours before the game, although I read now that too much water can be a bad thing in so far as it may flush some vital minerals out of the body.

Continually drinking just for the sake of it never seemed very clever to me. A bullock or a horse will drink when they are thirsty and seldom get dehydrated. A human is similar, even if it is wise to take a good bit of fluid on board before a game in these unusual conditions.

And we should not complain too much. We have endured three or four winters which ran into summers so we deserve a break and if it does not rain for another few weeks then all the better. It will be dark and dreary soon enough.

The big game today is in Clones where the nearly men of Monaghan face the champions.

Monaghan have a good record against Donegal and the Monaghan players would only be human if they looked at the opposition today and wondered why it could not have been them who made it big.

After all, three years ago Monaghan seemed much closer to winning Ulster and All-Ireland titles than Donegal. It would be an interesting experiment in human behaviour to see if Saint Jim of Donegal's particular type of management is transferable,

or were Donegal ripe for self-improvement at the time. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly there is something in the man management of Donegal where everyone accepted a rigid playing style which almost immediately started to yield results.

Players in general don't worry too much about anything other than winning so if a very defensive formation brought the first Ulster title then the players could not care less what the public thought. And that included the Donegal public.

Things of course have moved on as they are inclined to do and everything changes. Donegal adopted a slightly different method of play last year and ran up big scores. The emphasis on tight defence remained but a lot of good players started to play with a bit more freedom and flair. Yet this year it has been back to manning the barricades. Injuries to Neil Gallagher, Karl Lacey and Mark McHugh stretched their resources and encouraged a back-to-basics approach.

If Donegal are defensive today they will be more than matched in that department by Monaghan. Down showed with a fair degree of success that Donegal may be vulnerable to a team using their own tactics against them. It is grist to the mill for Monaghan who have spent the spring and summer operating a similar type of system. Today they are likely to load that defence up further so Paul Finlay, Kieran Hughes and Ciarán McManus may be the only three up front for most of the game. The rest will be a mobile hit squad who will maraud around the field winning possession, tackling and cutting down on space for the Donegal forwards.

It will mean the dreaded handpass, which was used slightly sparingly over the last couple of Sundays in the Munster and Leinster finals, will likely be centre stage this afternoon. So when people at home are throwing bricks at the telly and shouting 'kick it', they won't understand that the man with the ball is looking forward into an area where there are probably six backs marking three forwards. Even with the forwards running constantly over and back looking for space, it still needs a very accurate kick to find the target. The other thing is that a lot of county players are not good kickers of the ball. It is probably the skill which is practised least now.

Conditions like these should suit open football as players move the ball on quickly to conserve energy. This is likely to be the exception as Monaghan will set out their stall to tie up Donegal and make it a low-scoring game, at least up to half-time anyway, when new plans can be hatched.

If Monaghan are behind at the tea break, their goose is cooked as Donegal usually score more in the second half than in the first. It should also really suit the team with the best subs, but neither of these are that strong in the reserves department.

In the end, as always, it will come to a shoot-out between Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty for Donegal and McManus, Hughes and Finlay for Monaghan. Murphy will kick long-range frees off the ground for Donegal but Finlay will do likewise out of his hands for Monaghan. It has come to this on several occasions with Donegal and even when they are struggling for possession and momentum, two of their ace gunners can usually be relied upon to steer them home. Against Down, McFadden managed it on very little ball.

If Monaghan could stop two of the three from playing then the game could get a whole lot more interesting, but they must be disciplined. Often when Monaghan fall behind, their discipline begins to fray and if that happens then Donegal will carve them up.

Donegal have another advantage in that they can launch long ball into their forwards if all else fails because their big men inside can win it high or low. Monaghan are not as well equipped in that regard and their backs won't be as big as the forwards.

A lot of Monaghan players who have played a lot of good football for their county, like Lennon, Corey, Finlay and Tommy Freeman when he makes his entrance, have never seen the promised land and there won't be many more chances. The public would like to see them getting a reward for loyal service, but Donegal don't do charity very well and it looks like three Ulster titles in a row for the champions.

The Connacht final is an occasion rather than a match. There are many who see London in the Connacht final as a joke, but I look on it in an entirely different way. The GAA in London is an absolutely marvellous organisation as it is in so many other

cities across the world. It has helped young Irish people who would like to be here playing for their own clubs and counties get jobs, accommodation, contacts, skills and a future. A future which hopefully will mean many of these returning to Ireland to use these skills for the benefit of their country.

In the meantime, we should delight in their progress at football. If circumstances were different, Greg Crowley, Lorcan Mulvey, Paul Geraghty, Damian Dunleavy and many others who are playing today would be trying to get on their own county teams.

They are unlikely to find Mayo willing to be party to this romantic story. They are operating to a different agenda and a Connacht final is only the beginning. Mayo will win easily but it's a great day for London and the GAA.

Irish Independent

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