Eugene McGee: Donegal give Derry a lesson in cuteness
McGuinness’ early tactical ploy proves decisive in Ulster derby
Cuteness, on and off the field, is a critical ingredient in winning big football matches and that was exemplified, yet again, by Donegal as they overcame Derry at Celtic Park, even if it was after a struggle.
Donegal decided to play against the wind yesterday and, even though the wind was not actually an important factor, making that decision was, in a small way, a show of defiance by Jim McGuinness.
And so it played out.
Derry only scored six points, despite having 60pc possession in the first half, and it soon became obvious what the Donegal tactics were going to be for this typical Ulster championship game of survival.
Donegal set out to contain Derry to a limited number of scores in the first half, frustrate them at every turn and be ready to vary the tactics after half-time so that Michael Murphy, in particular, could be set up in the right place at the right time by his colleagues for the crucial scores.
Only three of Derry’s scores came from play and, even though they must have known exactly how Donegal would set out their massed defence – often with 13 players in their backline – the Oak Leafers were too predictable with silly short passing over and back across the field.
They were getting nowhere.
Donegal are past masters at that kind of play – they won an All-Ireland that way – so gobbling up the Derry attacks was something they could do at their ease. The only worry McGuinness’ men had in that half was a series of terrible wides from players who used to be able to kick through the eye of a needle.
It was about 25 minutes before either Colm McFadden or Murphy got a decent ball, but Donegal still had the patience to go through the first half on that basis so long as the Derry scoreline remained very low.
The demeanour of the Donegal players was different after half-time – they rolled up their sleeves, juggled around a few players, put Murphy where he should always be (in front of the opposing goal) and away they went.
Within five minutes or so, Donegal had gone from two down to four up and you knew the show was over then. They could even afford to revert to defensive Mode 1 and keep Derry scoreless for the opening 15 minutes of
that second half. Derry continued their crossfield passing; Donegal let them play around with their little games and their backline knew they had little to fear and with a comfortable lead, they simply beat every Derry forward for possession inside about 50 metres.
A Derry revival had to come at some stage once Donegal themselves stopped scoring for all of 12 minutes from the 47th to the 60th minute and again for 10 minutes after the hour mark, but even with that opening staring them in the face, the Oak Leaf forwards could only manage five points in the final 22 minutes.
Donegal are a long way from their glory days, but they will test any team in Ulster. Derry, meanwhile, have some fine players, such as newcomer Garett McKinless, and could do very well in the qualifiers if they apply themselves properly. Cuteness only comes the hard way – with experience.
Respect in very short supply when it comes to fixtures and fans
The machinations that can take place in relation to inter-county championship fixtures has never ceased to amaze me and we had a good example the weekend before last.
Longford seniors were fixed to play Offaly in the first round of the Leinster championship on Sunday, May 18 in Pearse Park. Then, the Longford minors were drawn against Kildare in the quarter-finals of the Leinster championship and that was fixed for May 17, also in Pearse Park.
Now any GAA person who was even threatened with intelligence would surely have said: “Why not fix the two games for the Sunday, since they are both scheduled for the same venue.”
After all, for donkey's years, the tradition in Leinster and Ulster at least used to be that for early round championship fixtures, the county minor matches would serve as a curtainraiser to the senior game.
It made sense for several reasons, not least because it allowed minor teams to get more exposure before large crowds and therefore, the minors playing at home, got a distinct advantage.
But common sense can often be conspicuous by its absence in GAA matters and here was a good example. The Longford-Kildare game went ahead on the Saturday as a stand-alone game. I do not know why the two games could not have been played on the Sunday in Pearse Park since Kildare were going to be playing away anyway. There was an excuse that Kildare had fixed a club minor league final for the Sunday. The Leinster Council was the body making the fixtures and Longford sought a double bill, but were refused by the Council.
Now, I have often heard about GAA tails wagging GAA dogs, but this sort of thing is very unreasonable. I was at the minor game, which incidentally was a marvellous match that went to extra-time with Kildare deservedly winning. There were at least 500 Longford people in attendance who would have paid the adult admission price of €10.
Assuming most of them attended the senior game on the Sunday, they would have had to fork out another €15 or €20 to watch Longford play Offaly. So, what does this say for how the GAA looks after those diehard followers who attend games every week?
And, on a similar theme, next Saturday week, Longford play Wexford in the Leinster quarter-finals in Pearse Park at 7.0, while, at 12.0 in Croke Park, Longford hurlers play in the Lory Meagher final. Now hurling is very much a minority sport in Longford, but fixture-making like this will certainly ensure it remains so and loyal supporters and, indeed, the county hurlers are being treated with little or no respect.
And remember ‘respect’ is one of the big buzz words in the GAA in recent times! I have encountered several fixture clashes like these in many counties over the past year where supporters and players receive little respect from various bodies.