Saturday 25 November 2017

Tomas O Sé: Donegal look a skeleton of the team they were

McGuinness' men had phenomenal fitness and hunger when they won All-Ireland – but Derry will test if the spark is still there

Donegal defender Karl Lacey tries to close down Chris McGuinness of Monaghan in the Division 2 final - the 2012 All-Ireland champions were on the back foot for long periods in that game and will have to improve against Derry on Sunday. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Donegal defender Karl Lacey tries to close down Chris McGuinness of Monaghan in the Division 2 final - the 2012 All-Ireland champions were on the back foot for long periods in that game and will have to improve against Derry on Sunday. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

Páidí sold me the lie that this punditry lark was glamorous, so his grin was in my head as I dragged my sorry carcass off to work on Monday morning.

It had been closing in on midnight when I got back to Cork from Omagh, nearly 16 hours after pulling the door behind me. Do you know that scene in the movie, 'Notting Hill', where they're all arguing in the car about the fastest way to get to the Ritz?

"Go through Bayswater...

"Then Park Lane...

"No, straight down the Cromwell Road ... "

They're barking away like a sat nav on speed when your man Max, the driver, screeches to a halt. They're melting his head. "James Bond never has to put up with this sort of s**t!" he says.

That was me by the end of last weekend. Head gone from concentrating. Worse, I left all my notes behind me in Healy Park. A big A4 folder with my name in large letters printed on the front. I made a call after, but it seems it went straight into someone's bin.

LAKE

Páidí, I suppose, didn't do notes. Back in the day when he was writing a column for the Irish Independent, it always sounded like a day on the lake.

For starters, he made sure to have a driver, so John Martin would collect him and they'd pick up Páidí's Boswell, Sean Potts, in Dublin along the way. Often as not, they'd be cutting it fine and arriving without the convenience of tickets.

Martin would drive up the hard shoulder where they'd inevitably encounter a garda, face all glare and business. Then a glance at the passenger seat. "Ah Páidí, is it you?"

The way Potts tells it, no road stayed jammed, no gate stayed closed on their travels. Páidí usually ended up watching from the sideline and then they'd take a leisurely route home, making a few stops along the way. For Páidí, Monday then would be a day of rest!

Omagh? I turned up an hour and a half earlier than I should for fear of being late, then watched Brolly and O'Rourke stroll in at the allotted time, calm as monks on retreat.

Brolly gets a lot of grief and does say the odd outlandish thing, as we saw again this week. But the two of them are actually good at reading a game. Now if I could just stop Brolly cutting across me ... suppose that might come with learning the ropes!

It was an odd game for my first experience of Ulster Championship. I was expecting something nearly from the coliseum, but the first half was like one of those in-house training matches you'd have some nights where you end up being called into a huddle and the manager says: "Lads, what in the name of God is going on here?"

Nobody hitting, nobody getting stuck in, no atmosphere, nothing.

The second was a whole lot better and I think Tyrone might have more scope to improve. They lost something with the sending-off of Niall Morgan. Their kick-outs suffered. James McCartan's half-time switches made a big difference, too, with Ryan Johnston and Benny Coulter taking control around the middle.

But sometimes you can't beat the old dog for the hard road. Conor Laverty was causing desperate trouble for the Tyrone defence and I was watching Conor Gormley very closely when he came on. He just went straight onto Laverty, stood in front of him and stopped him making runs. The bit of cuteness.

It was a pity we were back to talking about refereeing inconsistencies afterwards.

To be honest, my sympathy was with David Coldrick. Conor Maginn, obviously, shouldn't have been on the field when he got that second-half goal, but I can't for the life of me understand why the referee doesn't have contact with an extra pair of eyes, someone with access to TV replays. "David, that was a black card!"

Coldrick is one of the best in the business, but the problem is that you have analysts and all sorts zoning in on him straight away. Everyone giving out on Twitter.

A major achievement of the black card is it has stopped this third man tackle when a fella passes and goes for the return. But there's too much guessing going on. In the crowd, in The Sunday Game box, in the sitting-rooms of people watching at home. I think it has become over-complicated for refs.

Bear in mind, we're watching the cream of the crop too. Imagine the inconsistencies at club level? I think I read Peter Canavan saying recently that some referees at club level aren't even carrying black cards. They can't be bothered.

That says to me we have a problem with all these rules.

DEFENSIVE

By the way, I'm looking forward to seeing what Donegal bring to the table on Sunday. When they beat Kerry on their way to the All-Ireland in 2012, they were the most defensive team I ever faced. I was marking Rory Kavanagh and it took me a while to cop on to what was happening. When our goalkeeper was kicking out the ball – literally a milli-second after it came off his boot – if he knew it wasn't coming to me he sprinted straight to his half-back line. He wasn't even watching the ball. The other wing-forward was doing the same.

So, if Kerry won that kick-out, Kavanagh was in a position to defend. If Donegal won it, he suddenly sprang forward, available to carry possession. All the years I was playing football, it was probably the toughest one to figure out. What do you do?

When you did win possession, they still had about eight bodies back even before their midfielders started drifting back.

But the key was they had an unbelievable fitness level and some brilliant link-men like Thompson and McGlynn to carry that ball through midfield while, inside, you had McBrearty, Murphy and McFadden particularly, all three of them on fire.

I remember saying at the time 'If they're still able to do this a few years from now, hats off to them!' Because it took an incredible physical effort and Jim McGuinness was getting an awful amount out of a small panel. They had the system off to a tee and he had them all toeing the line.

I've great admiration for what they did that year and would love to pit that team in its prime against today's Dublin. But, since then, they look like a team that are not enjoying their football. They're being told what to do but it's as if they're not listening, as if they've no interest in it. The connection that was there is gone.

Karl Lacey's injury has been a problem, but I could never understand how they left a fella of Kevin Cassidy's quality off the squad, whatever was going on between him and McGuinness. And I don't know what's happening with Mark McHugh now. People are saying he just needed a break, maybe so.

But then we've seen Rory Gallagher leave the management team too. We've had the arguments over the suspension of club activity in the county. All that stuff is grand if you're winning. If you're not, people start questioning you.

I thought Donegal might be one of the teams to watch this year, but my God there was no spark from them in Croke Park for the Division 2 League final. They were actually bullied off the field by Monaghan. I just feel they're a skeleton of what they were.

And I'm not really sure what to make of Derry.

I was very impressed with how they ran the ball in the League semi-final against Mayo. They were able to take the heavy tackles and keep possession. But, against Dublin, they went for this long-kicking game and I couldn't understand that.

Look, maybe Dublin have that effect on teams, it's hard to judge anybody against them now. But Derry need to win this to get their confidence back, because confidence is everything to them.

I've a feeling that they will.

Irish Independent

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