Posted by Ciaran Whelan
Monday 18 June 2012
Donegal were very impressive on Saturday evening and they've certainly kicked on from last year. They took a lot of criticism in terms of their style of play last year but they've added another dimension to it.
There were elements of that against Cavan in the first round but against Derry you could see that they have moved on and they're definitely playing a more offensive game. They're attacking at pace and coming from deep in quite an effective manner.
I thought Donegal were fully deserving of their victory. Derry were very, very poor. They really only had one forward in Paddy Bradley that they were trying to get the ball to and it was quite obvious that Donegal had him targeted, with Karl Lacey dropping back to pick him up.
Derry didn't get the ball to him in any dangerous positions and they continually put long ball into a full-back line that was swamped with defenders. Donegal were easily able to sweep up so Derry were very tactically naive. It was probably one of the worst performances by a Derry team in the Championship in a number of years. It showed up the league form, that they're in the bottom half of Division Two, and it doesn't bode well for them going forward.
Donegal will take plenty of positives from Saturday in terms of how they implemented their game plan. They were very strong in defence and they're one year on now. They're one year wiser, one year more conditioned and they have better options in the forward line.
The likes of David Walsh had a great game, as did Ryan Bradley. Michael Murphy's return from injury is a big boost and Patrick McBrearty, even though he has just done his Leaving Cert, looks like somebody who has been around for a couple of years already.
They certainly marked themselves as contenders on Saturday and I don't think they're looking at an Ulster championship - I think they're looking beyond it.
Last year when they were turning teams over they were a bit isolated going forward because they had Colm McFadden up there on his own a lot. But when they turn over the opposition now, there are four or five them breaking from defence, attacking in numbers and coming off the shoulder. That is quite a difficult game to defend against and they did it quite effectively against Derry - McFadden's goal in the second half was the perfect example.
I'm interested to see how Tyrone will implement their game in the Ulster semi-final and how they would break down the Donegal defence. Donegal look to have a better system in place and they're consistently delivering to that system. All the players know exactly what their roles are and that's not an easy thing for any manager to implement.
Derry kicked long ball in and it wasn't effective. So Tyrone are going to have to play a running game to the half-forward line to a certain degree and try and get smart diagonal balls into the likes of Stephen O'Neill and Owen Mulligan. But it's going to be very, very difficult. It's going to take a good team to beat Donegal this year and I think they'll be knocking around come August again.
Look at Dublin in 2010 and 2011. Dublin were very defensive in 2010 coming through the qualifiers after Meath beat them. They weren't playing an attractive brand of football, they were getting men behind the ball and Pat Gilroy was trying to develop on a mentality of disciplined defending.
Dublin kicked on the following year and played a more expansive attacking game, moved the ball quicker into attack and attacked from deep. They adapted their game in 2011 and if you mirror the two systems, they're not hugely different. That's why I think Donegal are going to be very difficult to break down and it would be intriguing for Dublin to come up against Donegal again following last year's All-Ireland semi-final.
In Leinster, Meath got through Saturday night's replay and it was the result we expected the first day. Carlow put up a gallant effort with Brendan Murphy in the first 20 minutes but Meath kicked on and won the game comfortably. It would be a relief for Seamus McEnaney, who probably won't have taken much from the game because of the manner in which they won. But there are positives such as Brian Farrell hitting eight points (four from play) and Graham Reilly hitting another four points.
On Sunday Kildare came up against an Offaly team that showed why they had only won one game all year. In the first 15 minutes they put it up to Kildare and they were obviously hyped up. But you could see the difference in conditioning and preparation between the two camps, and Kildare shook off a bit of early rustiness to kick on and win the game comfortably.
I thought the performance of Tomás O'Connor was very good at full forward. He's very strong, he wins his ball and he knows his limitations. He does the simple thing, he has great hands, great awareness and he had a fantastic game. If Kildare had a Bernard Brogan or a Colm Cooper in there to play off him they'd probably be a lot more dangerous.
Meath have a couple of players in good form coming into the semi-final and Meath-Kildare games over the last couple of years have been close. Kildare have the upper hand on them at the moment though - I think they've beaten them the last seven times in league and championship. So you would anticipate that Kildare would come through but not without a fight from Meath.
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