Friday 19 July 2019

Donegal set to end best ever decade on a high

Donegal manager Declan Bonner. Photo: Sportsfile
Donegal manager Declan Bonner. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Whatever the outcome in Clones tomorrow sometime after 3.30, Donegal will end the decade as Ulster's most successful team.

Already with four titles from seven finals, five from eight would cement their supremacy and double their Anglo-Celt Cup collection to 10 from where it was prior to 2011 and Jim McGuinness' arrival.

Eight finals in nine years is a level of consistency that only Down in the 1960s, when they contested all 10, and, of course, tomorrow's opponents Cavan have previously enjoyed when they were virtually ever-present in a provincial final for the first 50 years of the last century. The fact that Cavan have won just once, 1997, since Donegal began amassing their Ulster titles in 1972 gives some perspective as to where they are coming from.

Still, of the three provincial finals this weekend, this one is easily the most intriguing. Donegal are many people's idea of Dublin's closest challengers now but that doesn't afford them any added luxury in Clones.

Cavan come into a first Ulster final in 18 years buoyant after wins over Monaghan and Armagh. The team has found structure and confidence to go with it. From where they were when they rolled over so easily in their opening game against Donegal in Ballybofey in last year's Ulster Championship, it's quite a leap.

But this Cavan team has leaders through the lines in the likes of Pádraig Faulkner, Killian Clarke, Gearóid McKiernan, Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety.

It may seem strange to be questioning their ability to deliver a big score after winning their last game scoring 22 points but they've been innovative with McVeety's use as a focal point a big springboard. On average, they've had nine different scorers in each of their three games.

Inevitably, the first question that faces any of Donegal's opposing management teams is what to do with Michael Murphy, the name that will fit most synonymously with this much-celebrated decade.

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Monaghan have had success with Vinny Corey in the past, Tyrone with Justin McMahon so it looks like a job for Clarke.

But Donegal have multiple threats. Jamie Brennan has developed into one of the most economical kickers in the game with pace to burn, while Ryan McHugh looked back to his best the last day against Tyrone. At the back, Hugh McFadden has developed into a much more assured 'screen'.

Donegal have the resources to play the long game, as they showed against Fermanagh, if Cavan decide to be more cautious. They also have the pace to exploit a more open game too.

In keeping with the manner in which this championship has been played, a more open game is likely to develop. It suits Cavan.

It will suit Donegal more.

Irish Independent

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