I was hugely disappointed this week after our Crossmolina boys lost to Castlebar Mitchels in the quarter finals last Sunday. We had prepared exceptionally well, particularly over the last three weeks since the conclusion of the group stages with two good challenge matches and quality training in between. The feeling was that if we could beat Castlebar, we had a right chance of winning the county title. The mood was good coming into the game despite injury to five of our first team squad. There was a quiet air of confidence that we would beat the more fancied Mitchels. There was a big doubt about our county player Peadar Gardiner’s participation right up to the last few minutes, but he had pushed himself right to the limit to be fit to play.
He is an exceptionally dedicated club man and he just loves playing for his home team. Gardiner had a tough couple of weeks since picking up a hamstring injury four weeks earlier. He underwent daily physiotherapy and cyrotherapy sessions and also spent hours in the gym but unfortunately he just did not have sufficient time to fully recover. He did play last Sunday as he dearly wanted to win another county championship medal, but he was not himself and he was unable to produce those lung busting runs from defence which would have been worth a few scores. He was not able to tog out with Mayo the previous week which was particularly hard on him personally as his time at this level is running short.
The tough thing about losing in the championship at this stage is the long wait until next year. We returned to training last Wednesday night in Crossmolina and the mood was very flat. However we must pick ourselves up and continue to train as we have five league matches left and we are desperately short of points on the board. Not a place the club has been in for quite a while, but I expect the lads will dig deep to ensure that we retain our division one status for next year.
Good luck to Castlebar. They took their scoring chances better that we did and they will rightly feel that they have a mighty chance of winning the county title. Barry Moran and Danny Kirby really hurt us with their ability to win primary possession when the game was there to be won. They are a good side but Ballintubber and Knockmore, who were watching from the stands, will not be frightened by them either.
Watching from the stands
I was at both senior quarter finals last Saturday evening in McHale Park. Ballina and Breaffy could not be separated at the finish and are in action again this weekend to see who advances. I think Breaffy are in with a mighty chance of winning this one as they now know they have the ability to beat Ballina. This match had an exciting climax with both sides guilty of missing opportunities to win the match. A draw was probably a fair result as, on the day, neither side really deserved to win it over the other.
Knockmore came away with the spoils in the other game. The funny thing about this one was the fact that Ballaghaderreen really only played good football for 10 minutes yet they could still have won the match. Andy Moran scored two cracking goals, but neither was as good as Ciaran McDonald’s first half screamer for Crossmolina on Sunday. The county champions, Ballintubber, eased their way into the semi-final after squatting away the stubborn resistance of Shrule/Glencorrib. They eventually won this one at their ease but will realise that they have not really been tested so far this year.
‘It felt like Donegal were cheating’
I sat and watched the entire All-Ireland semi-final last Sunday evening. Obviously it was a recorded version due to it clashing with our championship match at McHale Park. I was aware of the result at that stage and had a few texts on my phone indicating that it was arguably the worst semi-final ever played. Still, I wanted to see it in its entirety for a combination of reasons, not least so I could be in a position to give my views on it here. It is difficult to select an appropriate word for the match, but to me it felt like Donegal were cheating. This was not the way football was meant to be played and yet here they were destroying what should otherwise have been an enjoyable occasion. Of course they did nothing wrong, they did not break any rules, other than set up the most defensive system that has ever been endured in Croke Park on a big occasion. Understandably, the team and management came in for enormous criticism from match commentators. The post match analysis from O’Rourke, Spillane and Brolly encapsulated everything that needed to be said. Donegal arrived in Croke Park without the appearance of having any real ambition to win the game.
Michael Murphy, one of their most influential attackers, continued to sit back in the centre back position when he should have been relocated to full forward to assist the lone ‘striker’ Colm McFadden. Mark McHugh is a reasonably good wing forward, but inexplicably he was deployed in and around the full back line for the entire 70 minutes. It was as if they would suffer from altitude sickness had they crossed the half way line. But sit back they did, and that is in large part the reason why they did not make it through to the third Sunday in September. As I watched the Donegal manager Jim McGuinness float around the pitch immediately after the final whistle back slapping and hand shaking practically anyone who came in his direction, I wondered was he aware of just how close they had come to spoiling the ‘dream final’. There was no sense of an opportunity missed in his body language. In fact he looked rather pleased with himself for a job well done. In time, if and when he has a look back over his team’s performance he just might realise that this was nothing short of a glorious opportunity to reach an All-Ireland final not alone missed but actively avoided. That opportunity might never present itself again for him or this group of players.
The danger now of course is that we will have several managers around the country who will have watched Sunday’s game feeling that if they adapt a similar style of play they just might win something. As Jim McGuinness said in his post match interview, his job is to put medals into player’s pockets, not to make the likes of Pat Spillane happy. However the thought of having to witness this style of football ever again anywhere should be enough to stir Croke Park officialdom into immediate action. I believe it is they who should implement some new set of rules that will ensure that this style of football is abandoned before it becomes the norm. I suggest that by limiting the handpass to two or perhaps three times in a play before kicking the ball might be a good starting point.