Wednesday 17 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Myth-breakers expose Donegal's lack of Plan B

A dejected Colm McFadden at the end of the game in Clones
A dejected Colm McFadden at the end of the game in Clones
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Some of the greatest football teams around the world made their name by devising systems which they perfected for their own use, and when Jim McGuinness landed the job as Donegal manager two years ago, that was what he set out to do.

We saw the results last year when he brought them to All-Ireland success, and many believed he would repeat that for the next couple of years.

But the problem with systems is that they are static by their nature, and while they work for a while, opposing teams and players gradually figure out ways to overcome these methods.

That is exactly what Monaghan and their manager Malachy O'Rourke achieved in a tension-filled Clones yesterday. They outwitted Donegal to a ridiculous extent in every aspect of the game and as often happens when any system breaks down, there was no Plan B.

As a result, Donegal suffered the most comprehensive defeat of McGuinness' reign, and the meagre scoring tally of seven points is ultimate proof of that.

The greatest thing Monaghan had yesterday was hunger for victory – in that they cruelly exposed yet again that when a team wins an All-Ireland nowadays their appetite for success quickly wanes and inevitable defeat follows.

There was one huge factor in this game which I have often referred to in relation to Donegal over the past couple of seasons.

In nearly all their big championship games they got off to a good start and led by several points. Remember the final against Mayo last year and earlier in the year the early goal against Kerry?

By going in front early on, Donegal were able to take possession of the contest and as a result they could impose their system on the course of the game with inevitable victory.

This time it was Monaghan who got a lead of four points very early on and it was they who began to boss Donegal around with devastating effect. In the process, the Donegal full-back line was smashed to smithereens by Kieran Hughes and Ciaran McManus, a domination which they maintained throughout the game.

Hughes' performance was amazing, as playing in the traditional full-forward role of winning the high ball and lashing it over the bar, he totally destroyed such a brilliant defender as Eamon McGee.

But his performance was matched in nearly every section of the field, and the greatest attribute Monaghan had was that they were more than able to meet fire with fire against every Donegal opponent, thereby destroying the myth that Donegal's physical strength was their greatest asset in the tough man-to-man contests in this game.

The standard of raw courage was set at the start by Stephen Gollogly, who went fearlessly into a monstrous tackle on Mark McHugh which ended with both having to retire injured. That left Donegal in no doubt about who was going to win the physical stakes.

The tension throughout this game was incredible as the 32,000-plus fans waited for Donegal to unleash their skills. But, one by one, the leading players were being played out of this game and the result was inevitable from early in the second half.

Donegal's system was broken and it was Monaghan who controlled this particular machine.

Dessie Mone at wing-back was a colossus all over the field, while the Monaghan midfield of Owen Lennon and Darren Hughes ran that particular show.

But all of Monaghan's players were heroes on this historic day and O'Rourke was brilliant in his mental preparations.

Maybe the football season is about to start competing with the hurling championship after all.

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