Monday 21 October 2019

Donegal's shooting star still finding his range

Colm McFadden, Donegal
Colm McFadden, Donegal
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Profile the range of Colm McFadden's scores in the 2012 championship and pretty quickly a trend develops to illustrate just how good he was last season.

Profile the range of Colm McFadden's scores in the 2012 championship and pretty quickly a trend develops to illustrate just how good he was last season.

Dot the launching point for the 32 points he scored on his way to being the championship's top scorer on a pitch graphic and the length and breadth of his work quickly becomes apparent.

As the little cluster either side of the 45-metre line continues to grow, the concentration in that area paints quite a picture.

Has there been a more consistent season of long-range scoring from a forward in recent times?

From frees and play, McFadden's finishing is quite extraordinary, with some 45pc of his points coming from outside 30 metres.

Most were scored under high pressure against the best teams and struck with the precision and consummate appreciation of angles that you might expect from a maths teacher.

His third against Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final in Clones and his first, third (free) and fourth against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals all had a 40-metre-plus postmark on them.

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His third against Cork and his fifth, from a '45', in the semi-finals were from much the same parish.

His work in the All-Ireland final itself may have been less pronounced after Donegal's early barrage, but McFadden's package still included a point from play outside the '45' and another from a free from a slightly closer distance.

ACCUMULATED

In all, he bagged 4-32 from the seven games Donegal played to win the 2012 championship and, while top scorers have accumulated more, the quality must surely have left him close to being Footballer of the Year in the eyes of those players who choose the winner.

McFadden is, perhaps, the most emblematic example of Donegal's success in extracting the most out of themselves over the last two years.

Always a richly gifted forward with such a naturally aesthetic kicking style, "a wand of a left foot" as Brendan Devenney has described it, McFadden had many great days, but not many great seasons in the nine that he had with Donegal up to the end of 2010.

It would be wrong to label McFadden's work over the last two years as a 'transformation' because there have been so many days in the past when he was illuminating – the 1-7 he scored against Tyrone standing out as the reigning All-Ireland champions were rerouted through the qualifiers on a memorable day was a glimpse of what he was capable of on the biggest stage.

But it has taken the emergence of his brother-in-law as a reforming coach and motivator, offering a better platform than anything they had before, to refloat a career that looked to have hit some rocks after that infamous qualifier game in Crossmaglen against Armagh just under three years ago.

It's well documented how, after being substituted near the end of their humiliating nine-point defeat to Armagh that precipitated Jim McGuinness' appointment, the cameras filming the game live that afternoon focused in on McFadden as he sat in the dugout beside Eamonn McGee, capturing him briefly with a wry grin on his face.

It went down badly in the county, with some past players taking him to task, but it transpired that he had just been informed of an imminent presentation after the game to mark his 100th appearance for Donegal and was offering a rather ironic reaction. Not a place to celebrate such a milestone.

The thought of quitting at that stage – he was still only 27 – apparently crossed his mind. Having made his debut in 2002 as a 19-year-old substitute against Down, the same year that he won a Sigerson Cup medal, his career appeared to be drifting. But with McGuinness the only conceivable choice as manager after John Joe Doherty's departure, he had a strong sense of how things might progress.

McGuinness, then a neighbour in Creeslough where he lived after marrying McFadden's sister, spoke openly about his ideas for the game.

McFadden has been a key component in a game plan that has required much faith, but has reaped even more reward.

His periods of isolation as sometimes the only attacking outlet has perhaps demanded more mental strength than of any other player.

In that landmark All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in 2011, he found himself faced with a blanket of three defenders in front of him, but still found the space to create the one opportunity just after half-time that would surely have put their opponents to the sword that afternoon. However, the ball flew agonisingly over the bar when a goal looked certain.

His former attacking colleague Brendan Devenney believes the responsibility that such isolation brings has made a difference to his game.

"I think the authority of being the main man and the lynchpin sometimes playing up there all on his own has helped him," says Devenney.

"He's filled out a lot these last few years. He was always good for the hand off, but now he can really make it count. He can protect the ball better. That's a big strength for him."

Devenney admits McFadden would have shared his frustration at the way the game was going in Ulster in the mid-2000s, but was more diplomatic and less vocal about it.

"When Armagh and Tyrone were at that level, it was difficult for a forward," acknowledged Devenney. "He would have found the going just a little less tough than the rest of us. But you would always see his quality shining through at club level. Jesus, where he can kick points from!"

Never renowned as a confrontational player, McFadden's patience eventually snapped late in the Ulster semi-final against Tyrone, when, with the game long beyond them, he reacted to Brian Dooher and was red-carded. But generally, his demeanour is calm and composed. Under McGuinness, he has become the first line of defence and that has left him vulnerable to picking up yellow cards, two against Tyrone in last year's semi-final forcing him off late in the game.

The great conundrum for Donegal in the weeks and months ahead is whether players like Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh and even Karl Lacey can lift their game to the same heights as last year.

Most important of all, however, is that McFadden gets somewhere close to those heights. Looking at the distance profile of his scores last summer only re-inforces that.

Irish Independent

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