There’s something heart warming about Donegal. Their team ethic is not based on fancy individuality that can so often lead to failure, but on the values of hard, honest toil and a simple, effective game plan. They have a manager who doesn’t care in the slightest what the football fraternity think of him or his team. He has set out his stall and is sticking by it. The whole world was down on top of them last year, (myself included ) because of their ultra defensive dour style of play. Jim McGuinness was vilified for tarnishing our ‘beautiful game’ with such an ugly conservative style of defensive system that saw supporters, including many from his own county, walk out in disgust from Croke Park, when Donegal missed a glorious opportunity to defeat a Dublin side that were there for the taking. In fact, I spent most of last summer hoping they would be beaten as I genuinely hated their style of play. The reality is, they have some fantastic forwards, last year, inexplicably, they utilised them so far from goal that they rarely got an opportunity to do serious damage to any opposition. Six points against Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final is a case in point. This year they are unquestionably easier on the eye and appear to have realised that they have the ability to be serious contenders for an All-Ireland title if they are prepared to play a more attacking expansive brand of football. I admire them for that and for the fact that they have refined their system which now has seen them score an average of 18 points per game in the five games they have played in this year’s championship. They have also retained their air tight defensive system, only conceding a single goal from open play. And to be fair Jim McGuinness deserves great credit for turning the fortunes of a county whose team, up to last year, were the party, fun loving boys of the inter-county scene.
Cork are best equipped to win
From what I have seen in this year’s championship, Cork look the best equipped to land the big prize. They have brilliant forwards and, in Aidan Walsh, a power house of a midfielder. They also have at their disposal several talented players who can be introduced from the bench. Cork have always played with a confident swagger and it is part of their genetic make up, similar to Kerry, to believe that they are going to win the All Ireland every year. Prior to their quarter final victory over Kildare, I outlined some reservations I had about their defence. Their full back line conceded seven points from open play against a poor enough Clare side in the Munster final which begged questions about their man marking qualities. I also felt their half back line of Canty, O’Leary and Paudie Kissane looked porous enough and didn’t look near as flamboyant as they had in previous years. Any reservations I had were well put to bed by their recent high quality performance against Kildare.
Best of luck to Mayo minor and junior teams
I will of course be up in good time to see Mayo minors in action in their semi-final against Meath. I was at the Leinster final and saw Meath up close. They play the traditional Meath brand of football, ie moving the ball into their big full forwards early. To be honest they looked ordinary enough on that occasion. However, they were playing against a Dublin side that looked really impressive. I mentioned here last year that Dublin are producing serious underage talent and this year’s crop look particularly impressive. But then so did last year’s team and look what happened to them in the All-Ireland final? If this Mayo team can deliver anything close to the brilliant performance they displayed against Tipperary, then we will, I hope, have at least one team in Croke Park in September!
I was in Crossmolina last Sunday to see the local side play St Eunan’s of Letterkenny in a challenge match. The Donegal side haven’t played a single round of the championship so far this year, which must be particularly infuriating for all club footballers in Donegal. St Eunan’s are managed by my friend and former army colleague Mickey McGeehin. It was a good workout with both sides availing of the opportunity to give a run to many fringe players. I rushed back home to watch the hurling semi-final. Understandably all the talk this week has been about the farcical deployment of Lar Corbett on Tommy Walsh. The Tipp man, obviously working to management’s instructions, spent all afternoon running around after his opponent like a headless chicken. It was hideous and, in many ways, sad to see such a talented inside forward make such a fool of himself in front of so many. I felt sorry for the player and am still confused as to why one of the most lethal forwards in the game was sacrificed to be a constant irritant to one of Kilkenny’s finest hurlers. Declan Ryan who was being talked about on the radio before the game as being a brilliant tactician and man manager, got this one horribly wrong. But to hear that Babs Keating wouldn’t go to see Tipperary play again if Lar was playing was pretty pathetic too!
Finally, I want to wish John Kelly and the Mayo junior team the best in their All-Ireland final tomorrow when they take on Kerry in Ennis. I know it means a lot to those lads playing at this level. I have met Ollie Feeney on numerous occasions bulking up in the gym throughout the winter (not that this Islandeady powerfully built carpenter needs much in this particular department ). Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see this passionate footballer land an All-Ireland title.