BY CATHAL MacSUIBHNE in GALWAY: For the second week in succession Donegal steamrolled inferior opposition and they already look far too good for Division Two football.
While the swagger present in Portlaoise last week wasn’t quite as obvious today, Jim McGuinness’ men were proficient in how they went about their business and bagged another pair of league points in the process.
Even before the ball was thrown in, the gulf in class and gap in professionalism of both teams was evident. The Donegal players arrived out on the field at Pearse Stadium forty minutes before throw-in to undergo their warm up routine – and they all looked the part decked out in their newly acquired O’Neills gear.
Their drills had already been set up, cones laid out and the players went about their work before retreating to the dressing room for final words from their mentors. Galway on the other hand, only took the field twenty minutes before the start of the game and their preparation lacked the efficiency and organisation of their counterparts.
A few handling errors by his men in the drills had McGuinness barking orders and demanding more of his troops. At the other end the hosts looked liked they had come for a training session.
When the action got underway, Donegal adapted to the conditions better and implemented their running game whilst playing against the strong breeze blowing in from the Promenade in Salthill. Galway, despite having the stiff wind at their backs, were reluctant to shoot from distance and they made hard work of the scores that came their way.
Once Colm McFadden goaled after a quarter of an hour, following a wonderful sweeping move that started in the opposite corner of the field, it gave his team a cushion that was never going to be threatened. Donegal’s play was patient, smart and precise – they were quite happy to take numerous passes before the correct run was made and then they attacked the central channel of the home defence.
Having only passed a pitch inspection this morning, the recent wet weather left the sod extremely soft today and both teams will be feeling it in their legs tonight. The state of the pitch made it particularly difficult for the forwards – several times decent passes were played in front of them but with little or no bounce off the soft turf many of these were spilt and ended up in the hands of defenders.
They stuck at it though and the starting full-forward line of McFadden, Michael Murphy and Dermot Molloy posted 1-10 of the 1-16 Donegal total. Add in Patrick McBrearty’s three fine points from play after his introduction from the bench and there is real quality in Donegal’s forward play right now. They’re all playing with confidence, evidenced by McFadden’s audacious effort to lob the Galway netminder Manus Breathnach after he left his goal unguarded in coming out to intercept a pass destined for Captain Murphy.
There’s plenty of confidence amongst the supporters at present too, with a huge Donegal faithful in attendance today and indeed at times it seemed as if we outnumbered the locals.
While Donegal got a lot of joy from attacking centrally, there was no such luck for Galway going in the opposite direction as they met Leo McLoone putting in a masterclass at centre-back. He was as solid as a rock for the seventy minutes, breaking up plenty of opposition attacks and getting forward when the chance arose as well. Pound for pound he’s one of the squad’s leading ball players and appears to have made the number six jersey his own with Karl Lacey being used in the full-back line of late. Lacey was initially given marking duties on James Kavanagh, the former Kildare star who transferred to the maroon and white this year. Kavanagh though dropped deep and played much of the game at midfield, a strange call by the management given his prowess in front of the posts.
Donegal’s other corner back, Ryan McHugh, had a good day at the office and is certainly stating his case for inclusion come the summer. His burst of pace and economy while in possession make him a solid option for numerous positions on the field and showed he can score too, firing over early in the second period.
Another who impressed was Martin McElhinney, who played at midfield partnering Rory Kavanagh in the middle in the first half and then the returning Neil Gallagher in the second. McElhinney’s strong, direct running has always been a big part of his game but his primary ball winning ability is improving with every outing and his all-round game today was excellent.
With the likes of McElhinney,the aforementioned McHugh and half forward Odhrán MacNiallais all revelling in their starting roles, the league is already proving very useful for the team as regards improving the strength of the squad. That will be tested in three weeks time when Donegal face into what will most likely be the toughest game in the division as Ulster Champions Monaghan come to O’Donnell Park. There will certainly be a bit of spice in that one after the events in Clones last July and at this rate it might well be a dress rehearsal for a league decider in Croke Park come April.
While Donegal’s start has been nothing but impressive, the visit of the Farney men will tell us a lot about how the team is shaping up and will be a more accurate barometer of what awaits over the course of the year.