Saturday 24 August 2019

Donegal content to play the long game as patient approach gets second-half reward

Donegal 0-15 Fermanagh 0-9

Donegal’s Paddy McGrath puts the pressure on Fermanagh’s Ciaran Corrigan. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Donegal’s Paddy McGrath puts the pressure on Fermanagh’s Ciaran Corrigan. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Turn a half-used bottle of ketchup upside down and it will always take time for the remaining contents to meander down to the nozzle. It requires patience but give it that and eventually the flow will be more than sufficient for squeezing.

This was what the last Ulster quarter-final in Brewster Park, Enniskillen felt like.

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Daire O'Baoill of Donegal in action against Ultan Kelm of Fermanagh. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Daire O'Baoill of Donegal in action against Ultan Kelm of Fermanagh. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Donegal, laden with so many top-class, long-range shooters, knew that a game like this was always likely to open up for them the longer it progressed.

And that's how it played out. Two points down at the end of the first quarter as Fermanagh held them scoreless, they got to the break 0-5 to 0-4 ahead.

They were able to play the game on their terms in the second half to pull a tiring defensive configuration apart and make the incisions. They scored twice as much in the process. It was to be expected. Anyone in the 10,447 crowd who thought different was fooling themselves.

This is how Fermanagh set up and they make no apologies for it. It gives them the best chance to stay in a game. They will look back at what they did when they had closed to a point, 0-9 to 0-8 at the end of the third quarter, and have some regrets.

Shaun Patton of Donegal. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Shaun Patton of Donegal. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Danger

Ciaran Corrigan had just scored a point to cut the deficit to the minimum again after Donegal had threatened to get away when Michael Murphy skied a ball from distance that, initially, looked like it would present no apparent danger.

But Fermanagh defenders, many of them in situ, hesitated, the ball bounced and Patrick McBrearty, back for his first piece of competitive action after rupturing his cruciate ligament against the same opponents in last year's Ulster final, nipped in to punch home a point and re-open a two-point gap.

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It was one score but the type of score you felt Fermanagh would not have legislated for conceding.

Within nine minutes the gap was out to four points and Fermanagh had the oxygen of just a converted Conal Jones free after Che Cullen was fouled driving forward in the last quarter.

They still had a half-chance of a goal five minutes later with three points still between them, but Michael Langan got down to block Daniel Teague's shot and avert trouble.

That they were still in touch at that stage justified their game plan. For sure it lacks an entertainment value to the neutral and even their own committed supporters. But if the alternative is something like the fate dished out to other counties by Division One teams over the weekend, then it's a simple choice. Until they can develop players with the long-distance range of some of their Donegal opponents, then this remains their best chance.

Playing this game does. however, sap the energy. From the moment Donegal's Jason McGee won the throw-in, Fermanagh players were scrambling to get back and erect a cordon across their 45-metre line.

Donegal expected it. They tried to make the pitch as wide as possible. But Fermanagh needed to shrink it and with the Cullen brothers, Che and Lee, Declan McCusker and James McMahon especially resolute through the middle, they made it a frustrating start for the Ulster champions.

Eventually, Jamie Brennan popped over a point from 40 metres in the 18th minute and, after four wides, Donegal could breathe a little easier.

Every time a move broke down at either end it was like watching the great wildebeest migration as chains of players raced to get ahead of the ball at the other end and catch their opponents out of position. Sometimes it worked but more often than not it didn't and the game set off on a repetitive pattern.

"It's not the most pleasant of games to watch but it can be intriguing in terms of styles and contrasts. We had to be patient, we had to be very disciplined and I felt we were," said Donegal manager Declan Bonner afterwards.

It improved after the break and Donegal were more economic. From 13 points from play, 10 were outside a range of 30 metres as Brennan, McBrearty, Murphy and Ciaran Thompson all found their range.

"From our point of view the missed free (Conal Jones) at 10-8 was crucial. Then at 9-8 the bounced ball," said Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher, referencing that McBrearty point. "They were big to us. It was still going to be a big ask for us to win the game, but at 9-8 we were giving as good as we got and I would be very disappointed in those two scores."

Gallagher took something, however, for the squeeze they put on Donegal in that opening quarter.

"The way we played would make most teams nervous. We turned over a lot of ball, we looked dangerous. We needed to score a goal at some point.

"You almost need to get ahead. I wouldn't say they (Donegal) ever looked in real bother or were real flustered. But at times they were flustered. The way Patrick and Jamie kicked scores, they were super scores and they were scores we aren't capable of kicking at the minute."

Michael Murphy was also influential in the second half but there is room for Donegal improvement, especially in capitalising on breaking ball off kick-outs.

Scorers - Donegal: P McBrearty 0-5 (2f), J Brennan 0-4, M Murphy 0-2, M Langan, J McGee, L McLoone, C Thompson 0-1 each. Fermanagh: U Kelm, C Jones (2f), C Corrigan 0-2 each, R Jones, S Quigley, B Mulrone 0-1 each.

Donegal - S Patton 7; P McGrath 8, N McGee 7, S McMenamin 7, EB Gallagher 7, D O'Baoill 6, R McHugh 7; H McFadden 6, J McGee 7; C Thompson 6, M Langan 7, L McLoone 6; P McBrearty 7, M Murphy 8, J Brennan 8. Subs: F McGlynn 6 for O Baoill (49), N O'Donnell 6 for McLoone (55), E McHugh for McGrath (61), E Doherty for R McHugh inj (71), P Brennan for Thompson (73).

Fermanagh - J McGrath 7; J Cassidy 7, C Cullen 7, L Cullen 7; U Kelm 7, J McMahon 7, K Connor 6; E Donnelly 6, R Jones 6; D McCusker 7, A Breen 6, C Corrigan 8; D Teague 6, C Jones 5, S Quigley 5. Subs: B Mulrone 7 for Teague (ht), P McCusker 6 for Quigley (44), T Clarke for Connor (61), R Lyons for Breen (64), D Teague for D McCusker (68).

Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan).

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