Friday 23 March 2018

McIver's Donegal have the chance to party - with a Cup

THE League is beginning to resemble the competition neither of the finalists are overly concerned with winning. There are bigger fish to fry coming up very soon and the injuries are mounting up.

If you gave either manager the option of winning today but losing a top player to a long term injury, they would prefer to have their full complement for the championship. The League has already served its purpose.

Kildare have lost Killian Brennan to an Achilles' tendon problem and he appears set to miss the rest of the year after slipping up in Croke Park last Sunday.

No one seems to be blaming the pitch in this case, but the long dry spell has hardened up pitches very quickly and the risk of injury has increased enormously. It is even worse for club players who have to play on patches resembling ploughed fields as clubs who were not fast on the draw with the old roller are paying the price.

Yet players at any level can't be wrapped up in cotton wool and a bad knock can happen at a training session just as easily as in a match. There were often training sessions with Meath where liberal refereeing meant that going for a ball you put yourself in mortal danger. Getting to a match and not having to face our own backs was a liberating experience. This seems to be the general tactic in Kilkenny training sessions too and it is not a bad learning process knowing that your enemies can never do anything worse to you than your friends have already tried.

Both sides today would wish to sneak a low-key game and go off and have a few quiet weeks of rest and recuperation before the real hostilities begin. The last month has been tough: plenty of hard games and no opportunity to draw breath.

Mayo have suffered most on the injury front and may have half a team getting running repairs. The upside for them is that the players who have come in have earned their corn. But there is no county with 25 quality men and eventually the rope snaps when the heavy load comes on. It is amazing how well Mayo have coped under this pressure and O'Malley and Kilcullen have been useful recruits to the full-back line, an area of the team which has been a bit ropey to say the least for the last few years.

The single biggest change that John O'Mahony has brought has been to their mental state. In the past Mayo were like a horse on the bridle who looked quite serene when coasting in front but found little when the whip came out. Now they seem to cope very well with adversity and a team really grows in confidence when they can win games coming from behind. A couple of wins in this manner and a team know that they always have a chance if they keep playing in a certain way. In other words, the method of playing should not change very much irrespective of what the scoreboard is showing, even if there are times when the clock is running down and a few gambles must be taken.

Donegal have learned a bit of patience too. They have lost Brendan Devenney who has a knee problem, and Croke Park is unforgiving to joints. Kevin Cassidy has been reinstated and is a huge asset, but if he skates on thin ice again he will fall in and miss a championship match.

Donegal have never won the League and this is a great chance to put that right, have a good blow-out, take a couple of weeks' break and still have three weeks to prepare for Armagh in the championship.

Incidentally, if it is a home game for Donegal then it should be played in Donegal. There is no way that a county that worked hard to provide a top class venue for around 15,000 spectators should have to move because more people might want to attend. Donegal have a lot of attributes to win big games.

They have the players: Neil

The biggest difference that Brian McIver seems to have brought is an awareness of the value of quick ball

Gallagher is a very good midfielder and Colm McFadden could be a useful score-getter, though he probably needs to throw it around a little, but the biggest difference that Brian McIver seems to have brought is an awareness of the value of quick ball. The unfortunately absent Devenney in particular has profited from this. That quick ball is now being delivered by foot and Donegal have a big strong team who can win posession without it being put on a plate.

This sort of approach has unsettled Mayo in the past, but they have developed a new energy under O'Mahony. With Galway looming in the championship there are other games to think of, but Mayo have such a bad record in finals that they have no option but to risk life and limb to try and carry this one off. It may, however, be a bridge too far at this stage.

Donegal seem more settled and could probably cope better with a couple of players missing. They should get to party - with a cup this time.

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