Sunday 18 August 2019

'He knows everything about Mayo' - Why Stephen Rochford could play a crucial role in Super 8s finale

Donegal manager Declan Bonner speaks to selector Stephen Rochford ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 1 match between Donegal and Meath at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, Donegal. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Donegal manager Declan Bonner speaks to selector Stephen Rochford ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 1 match between Donegal and Meath at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, Donegal. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tony Considine

While there was plenty of talk about Dublin’s barnstorming finish against Cork on Saturday, Group One’s opening fixture also saw an impressive late burst in Ballybofey.

From a position where they found themselves a point down to Meath with 15 minutes left and all square on the hour, Donegal put the boot down and a blistering last ten minutes saw them run out nine-point winners.

And their capability to raise their game in that fashion has Herald GAA correspondent Frank Roche believing that the Ulster champions could be the biggest threat to Dublin’s drive-for-five.

"Meath created goal chances which is a bit of a worry for Donegal. At home to the so-called weak team in the group, they found themselves a point down in an utterly must-win match at the three-quarters mark," Roche told The Throw-In, Independent.ie’s GAA podcast in association with Bord Gais.

"But the response was hugely impressive coming from the bench but also from the figures you’d expect it to come from.

"This is why I give Donegal a shot at the All-Ireland this year if it comes to a point where they have Dublin in a straight knock-out game. They have at least five or six players who would arguably get on the Dublin team in terms of quality.

"Michael Murphy would get on any team. Ryan McHugh would get on any team. Paddy McBrearty is back and fully in the zone now and would get on any team. 

"I think Eoghan Ban Gallagher is the nearest thing to another Jack McCaffrey out there. He is jet-heeled. He’s so quick, dynamic and is comfortable on the ball when he’s running with it too. Jamie Brennan has had a brilliant season for them.

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"They have a keeper whose kick-outs are Cluxton-esque. He’s been brilliant in all the games. His kicks are like laser darts and they always seem to favour the Donegal man. He regularly goes long and Donegal win most of them.

"So they have an awful lot of quality. Whether there's enough to beat Dublin is the question everyone is going to ask."

Of course, before any shot at Dublin, there’s still the matter of clashes with Group One’s other big-guns, Kerry and Mayo, to navigate. 

While Mayo will have been very disappointed with their showing against Kerry in Killarney, a win against Meath could set up a fascinating winner takes all clash for the Green-and-Red should Kerry beat Donegal at Croke Park this weekend.

Should that situation arise, then Roche believes that the pre-season changes to Donegal’s backroom team, along with their finishing burst, could give them a vital edge.

"They have a system of play they’re very comfortable playing with. Stephen Rochford appears to have made a big difference in terms of coaching as well," Roche concluded.

"You could have an intriguing scenario in a couple of weeks if Kerry beat Donegal where they go into a straight shoot-out with Mayo at McHale Park and you’ll have Stephen Rochford in the Donegal dug-out, who knows everything that is to be known about this Mayo team.

"If the three teams finish on four points each then the 10-point defeat Mayo suffered could come back to haunt them whereas Donegal came with a burst to win an edge of the seat match by nine points."

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