Dissecting Donegal

Image: @MayoGAA

Right, whatever about Galway in May our immediate priority is our do-or-die NFL Division One Round 7 match against Donegal this coming Sunday. The game takes place at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey and, with the clocks going forward on Saturday night, throw-in is set for the later time of 3pm. Anthony Nolan of Wicklow has the whistle for this one.

For a county we only came up against in a competitive fixture for the very first time as recently as 1984 – we played them in an NFL Division II match at Ballyshannon in November that year, losing by 1-13 to 1-5 – Donegal are a county we’ve played a fair bit of ball against in the years since then. On that list, of course, is an All-Ireland final, a semi-final and two quarter-final meetings in the championship as well as regular enough clashes in the League.

Over the past decade we’ve met a total of seven times in Division One of the League (Donegal were absent from the top tier for three of those ten years) and the record over that period stands at two wins for us, two draws and three wins for them.

Our most recent meeting was, of course, last April when we squared off in the final round of last year’s League campaign. We weren’t 100% sure of staying up heading into that game (as events transpired, Roscommon’s win over Cavan sent the Breffni lads down regardless of how we got on) but we certainly played for a result that day and got one too, coming out on top at MacHale Park by 1-12 to 0-13.

Photo: Mayo Advertiser/Sportsfile

The last time we played them up there was in Sunday’s venue, MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, two years ago. We lost that game by two points – our third defeat in three outings in that League campaign – but, having led by three points early in the second half, there was a distinct feeling that day that we’d left the spoils behind us.

Maybe now’s as good a time as any to deal with this issue about our never having won a match against them played up there. The records do, indeed, confirm this is the case but it needs to be borne in mind that it is rather a small sample size. We’ve only ever played them in Donegal a total of seven times, drawing twice and losing the other five.

I was at the first of those draws, by the way, a game played back in 1985 in Ballyshannon. The match was on the October Bank Holiday Sunday and I’d taken a day off work the previous Friday so that I could be in the west to see the first pilgrimage flights to Rome taking off from Knock airport.

Then on the Sunday a few of us headed up the road to Ballyshannon. It was a match we should have won, having led by six points at one stage, but a determined Donegal fightback seemed complete when they went a point ahead in injury time. We had the final say that day, though, as Noel Durcan pointed right at the death to snatch a draw.

The other draw we gained on Donegal soil was our League meeting in Letterkenny in 2009. How we managed to get anything out of that one remains a bit of a mystery as they were thumping us by nine points at the break. But back we came in the second half and our comeback was completed when Ciaran Conroy pointed with virtually the last kick of the game to end it all-square.

We’ve played them in Ballybofey three times in the past – in 1994, 2012 and 2016 – and have lost each time. Their record in MacCumhaill Park – where they’re unbeaten since 2010 – is an impressive one, not least when you contrast it with our own godawful run of defeats at MacHale Park.

Here too, however, a note of caution is necessary. Donegal tend to shift their home matches around the county – with Ballybofey, Letterkenny and Ballyshannon all getting a cut of the action – and so they don’t play that many games at MacCumhaill Park. Still and all, an unbeaten streak at the venue stretching back eight years is good going.

Okay, onto their form line. With the current League campaign all but over what happened last year is of less relevance to the hear and now but I’m nothing if not a creature of habit so bear with me as we go on a gallop through Donegal’s competitive action last year and this.

In Division One last year, Donegal ended up in third place on eight points, ahead of us on points difference but missing out on a final place to Kerry by the same metric. While we got our points from four wins they did so via three wins and two draws.

They lost by a goal to Kerry at Letterkenny in the opening round but they squeezed by Roscommon by a single point a week later. In Round 3 they played out a very cagey 2-5 to 1-8 draw with Dublin at Ballybofey, following which they had eight points to spare over Cavan at Breffni Park. A six-point win over Tyrone at Ballybofey and a draw with Monaghan at Ballyshannon put them in the frame for a place in the final but we then spoiled those plans by beating them by two points in the final round.

They had only two outings in the Ulster championship last summer. They beat Antrim comprehensively in the quarter-final in May, on a scoreline of 3-19 to 1-9 in a match played at MacCumhaill Park. Then, in the semi-final the following month, they were utterly dismantled by Tyrone, losing by 1-21 to 1-12 at Clones.

That loss meant they were tipped into Round 2 of the qualifiers, as we were too, and as they were also in our half of the draw we had to keep a weather eye on them, knowing that we could well end of facing them at some point.

That didn’t, of course, happen. After wins over Longford, by 0-12 to 0-7 in Ballybofey, and Meath, by 1-15 to 1-14 in Navan, Donegal ran into Galway’s propeller blades, their championship season ending with a 4-17 to 0-14 Round 4A whipping at Markievicz Park. It was the first time in seven years that Donegal failed to reach the All-Ireland Series.

Photo: Skysports.com

Like ourselves, Donegal have struggled badly this year in Division One. They began under new manager Declan Bonner with two encouraging defeats, an opening round shoot-out against Kerry in Killarney that they were desperately unlucky to end up on the wrong side of a 2-18 to 3-14 scoreline and that was followed by a 1-12 to 0-14 loss to Galway at Letterkenny.

They lost again in Round 3, to Dublin by 0-20 to 0-15, but finally got some tangible reward for their efforts in Round 4 where they had two points to spare over Kildare at Ballyshannon. That one ended 1-15 to 3-7.

Rounds 5 and 6, however, brought two further defeats, both of them to Ulster rivals. Tyrone beat them by 2-13 to 1-10 at Omagh and then Monaghan came out on top by 1-16 to 2-10 last weekend.

So, now you have it. Donegal have two points on the board, we have four. We only need a draw to avoid the drop but if they beat us we’re down on the basis of the head-to-head rule. No complications there.

The bookies narrowly favour Donegal to do the business on Sunday. Paddy Power price them at 10/11 while we’re on offer at 6/5.

As usual, though, let’s finish with a poll on it. Are you confident we’ll yet again retain our top tier status or do you think that this time we’re definitely for the drop? It’s all down to the game on Sunday so how do you think it’ll go for us?

How will we do against Donegal?

  • Win (48%, 185 Votes)
  • Lose (35%, 134 Votes)
  • Draw (17%, 64 Votes)

Total Voters: 383

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34 thoughts on “Dissecting Donegal

  1. Best of luck to Rice College tomorrow though they will do well to beat Naas CBS. 3 of the 4 Semi finalists are new college teams at this level with the 4th Dingle not too long in it either despite success.
    Think Mayo have it all to do and we could be following them in Div 2 with Ros and Galway in Div 1.How times change.Hope not!

  2. Great background there on Donegal and their recent form. I voted for Tyrone last weekend because I thought they would be down with all guns blazing. I’m goin for Mayo this weekend. I’m expecting a vastly improved performance and I don’t think Donegal are nearly up to Tyrone levels. A gritty performance, and a bit of cohesiveness when we’re goin forward and we’ll be coming home with both points.
    Hon Mayo.

  3. Our average margin has been -2.7pts over the six league games to date. There’s no doubt we are well capable of pulling off a backs-to-the-wall smash and grab if the attitude is right. However, this is also a do-or-die game for Donegal that they will be hell bent on winning….so with their home advantage and our overall poor form it’s hard to see anything other than a Donegal victory on Sunday.

  4. Declan Bonner has Donegal playing an expansive attacking game. McBrearty is the heartbeat, but even so, they are capable of putting up big scores. I think Mayo will look forward to this challenge, as it will likely be a footballing shootout. Therefore, I can see the game developing in the vein of the Kildare contest, and I’d expect a few of the newbies to show what they’re about. Put May Day out of your heads for a while – it’s all about the here and NOW!

  5. We will surely see a reaction on Sunday whether it will be enough remains to be seen. Our Forward play has been so poor this league with the exception of Kildare who are not of division one standard it’s hard to see us getting enough scores to win it. If we do get get relegated we can have no complaints we were very very poor for most of it. We will improve for summer but it’s hard to see how we could reach standards of last 7 years. But what a 7 years…..

  6. Donegal have played the same opposition as ourselves and have collected 2 fewer pints. They must be fairly poor alright. Ah yeah, it’s beginning to look like a handy enough one for Mayo alright.

  7. Fascinating to read the 2009 report WJ. Kevin McLoughlin an unused sub at corner back… how times change!

  8. Just a mad though I know, and I’ll probably get slated for it, on the full back issue, our second and third choice goalkeeper’s given the right coaching and training, would surely be able to help out there, maybe not this year, but they must be up to speed with s&c, surely they would have the physical attributes required, and be good in the air, with a safe pair of hands, and long distance free taker, mad I know but desperate times and all that, still think they will pull it out of the fire on Sunday, easy on the arrows now, the green and red forever.

  9. I’ve voted yes in the poll.

    Think of all the games over the years where this team has had their heads well and truly on the chopping block.

    We always pull the result out of the fire. Even if at time we suffer near heart attacks but I believe in this group of players more than any group before.

    Yes the last day was far from pretty but as WJ says our home record is awful so I’m taking comfort in the fact it’s an away game.

    A bit of positivity around the place can go a long way so i’m calling on everyone to row in behind the lads this week. Supporters support! You never know, it could make the difference between winning & losing Division 1 & Division 2.

    Mayo forever

  10. The Mayo Viking. Ya know that feeling you get when a goal keeper goes on a solo run, thats a good reason why they shouldnt play out field. Unlike many others I dont have much worries about the fb position, if the proper protection is given infront of the fb then it isnt an issue. If the fb gets isolated one on one then its a problem, not just for Mayo but for every other team. For example Mayo v Kerry last year Andy destroyed the kerry fb beacuse we isolated their fb. Going forward id say Harrison will be our long term fb, I dont agree with the notion that he has to be big and bulky to play the position, not many teams play with a big ff anymore, the game has moved on from that, fb needs to be very mobile and be a good reader of the game.

  11. There is precedent for that approach, Mayo Viking! In our first ever match against Donegal that I reference in the post (back in 1984) Eugene Lavin played centre-back for us.

  12. Head v the Heart?
    To be honest, and I don’t like admitting this, I cannot see us winning up in Donegal this weekend, or even drawing. I think our goose is cooked and we are heading for the drop.
    It pains me to admit it because I am always optimistic and have always backed this group of players but, such was the lacklustre. disjointed effort last Sunday, I do not believe things can be turned around in 6 days. We must not forget or fool ourselves into forgetting just how pathetic our performance was v Tyrone. It was so poor, for me, it pointed to more than a tactical or physicality failure. For me, it was all about our attitude. And it stank the place out. From Boyles reckless and dangerous tackle, to Morans strop with the ref, to the “downing tools” of our more senior players. We looked so far removed from where we normally are that I do not believe that type of attitude can be switched around so quickly. We look like, and certainly are playing like, a second division team. A bad one at that.
    It was mentioned above that Sundays game will come down to a shoot-out. I hope to God it doesn’t. Because if it does we are certainly finished. The reason being that we do not seem to have any idea of how to create attacks, expose defenders and get the ball into the scoring zone. Absolutely clueless. Mayo have gone from playing the best attacking football I can remember a Mayo team ever producing (the 2 games v Kerry and the AIF) to the complete horseshit they have served up in the league and that type of form cannot be switched on and off like a tap.
    Comparisons with the Kildare game are inaccurate also. Neither us nor them were going to be relegated on the result in Newbridge, even though Kildare played like a team that knew it was gone. Donegal have far more heart, more seasoned experienced forwards, and, they play us at their home in a do or die game. In a venue where we have never won. We are without two of our on-field leaders and in Keegan we have lost a true great of the game. Mark my words, in years to come that lad will be spoken about as one of the greatest ever.
    So. The heart says we will, against all the odds and against all evidence produced thus far in the league, scrap our way to a win and survive division 1. The head says our time is up. We will know the final outcome at 5pm on Sunday.

  13. If you tog out without a physical full back the opposition see it as a vulnerable target.
    – Donegal 2012
    – Kerry 2014
    – Dublin 2016/2017 (Rock has continuously caused us issues not being matched up to size wise each time he’s played us. It always amazes me that Rocks several scores from play in the two finals rarely get mentioned, they’ve been game deciders)
    That is where a guy like Caolan Crowe comes in because you can assign him to a Rock, OGara, Murphy etc. and at least you have some assurance that he’s going to be tall enough to get a hand in and heavy/strong enough to stop up the forward when being ran at.

  14. They got the better of us by three points at HQ in the 2007 League Final too. Kevin O’Neill’s last day togging out for us I think?
    I just feel we’ll sneak it on Sunday if a few of the fringe fellas go for broke. Up Mayo!!!

  15. As far as I know it was v Derry in the 2007 Qualifiers that O Neill, Brady and McDonald were given token minutes and it finished for them that day. Three greats.

  16. Not too optimistic about Sunday. But who knows. We were relegated in Cork a few years ago until two moments of genius from Cillian O’Connor.

    Despite the absence of the warrior Keegan, I think it’s Cillian’s absence that may affect us more on Sunday. When our overall play is as chaotic as it is now, and we look like we haven’t a clue how to make a scoring chance, it’s always good to have the option to work a free when Cillian is standing over them.

    There are many questions for Mayo to answer on Sunday, but a major one is: what is the plan for frees (and 45s)?

  17. Those details are all in the results archive here on the site, John C! You’re correct that Kevin O’Neill and Ciaran MacDonald came on as subs (the latter only after the match was lost – well I remember it, I was there that day) but David Brady started. So too did Pearse Hamley, in what was (for now at least) his final appearance for the county. My match report for the blog on that sad loss is here.

  18. “For now at least ” do you know something willie joe or was that just for the sake of incase he ever came back ?

  19. I’m with Pebblesmeller on this one. Heart says win, head says no and last Sunday gave serious cause for concern for the reasons he outlines. Through thick and thin I don’t know if I’ve ever left a game early but I had to be back in town for an event and I gladly availed of that excuse to leave a few minutes before I had to. There just comes a point when life is too short and you need to write a day off as a doozy in the hope that the next one will be better.

    Over the years the most delightful thing about this Mayo team in all its form has been its ability to surprise us with some completely unexpected performances, so I will be 100% behind the lads on Sunday. Not least because the doom and gloom and calls for the manager’s head on here if we go down will be unbearable 🙂

    Also, Pearce Hanley is never coming back. If he does, I will eat my Genfitt jersey.

  20. Very pessimistic indeed. A team that has been backed into many a corner down the years, and yet some supporters can throw in the towel so easy. Personally I thought they were gone in Cork that year, but wait I heard we were safe at the same time I heard we would be playing a semi final. I am an optimistic person and that game has stayed with me. Has this pessimism anything to do with Cillian’s absence. You know that Cillian O Connor that some posters were telling us he should be dropped in favor of our younger players.

  21. PJ, it’s not really pessimism – it’s just giving an opinion on how the game will go based on the evidence in front of us thus far. Whether they win or lose I’ll be there for the next game, the next game and the next. There’s no such thing as throwing in the towel. And I will be delighted to eat humble pie on Sunday evening should the lads pull it out of the bag.

    Cillian is a massive loss.

  22. Some were hailing the away win in Monaghan as one of our best in a long number of years, now our defeat to Tyrone is being hailed as one of our worst in years. As always we are somewhere in the middle in reality. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong against Tyrone, it was one of those days. We move on. We have to remember that we are missing a lot of players at the moment, as well as having some players only back from injury. A fit and hungry Tyrone exploited this to the maximum.

    Donegal are a confidence team, we have to get on top of them early and drive on from there. It’s all to play for then. Another Donegal player Eoin McHugh, cousin of Ryan and Mark has left the panel, he is heading to the states for the summer. I think that’s the third or fourth player to leave the Donegal panel in recent weeks. Their second choice keeper walked out a few weeks ago because he was overlooked when the first choice keeper was out. Things might not be rosy under their new manager Declan Bonner. It’s up to us to put pressure on their keeper and exploit this, put the squeeze on them in their own half. We should be well capable of winning this game if our attitude is right, which you would expect that it will be. Rochford usually gets the tactics right in these type of do or die games.

  23. I’m with Anne-Marie on this one HSE. Don’t confuse pessimism with realism. I will be there whether it be division 1 or 4, but my assessment of our chances is based on what I’ve seen this year. Our Monaghan result was heavily influenced by the absence of McManus, their indiscipline in the final 10 mins and, there is no doubt, we looked far sharper and quicker across the ground that day than we did last Sunday. I do agree we have to move on but I also believe in order to progress you have to look at the negatives and failings of our game, learn from them and correct them. I feel, that such were our failings last week, one week (maybe two training sessions) is not enough time to correct them. Especially without Cillian and Keegan. I hope and pray I am wrong though.
    Donegal are no world beaters but in Murphy, McNiallais, and the McHughs they have major mobile threats that we will struggle with.

  24. I’m really surprised that more posters here aren’t seeing the major changes the early game against a strong Galway is having on the teams preperations this year. It’s well documented that due to geographics and schedules we struggle to train effectively in the springtime and have instead opted to focus on summer football. We could do that because we were so far ahead of anyone else in Connacht. In 2016/2017 Galway built their whole championship season around the Mayo game and got results (lucky ones in both cases), Rossies nealy caught us out in 2015. Both teams have now started to catch up to us and we can no longer ignore the early games, the early start to the Championship this year has really compounded this problem for us. We now have to be 100% ready for May 13th and that means our whole S&C schedule has changed, with loading starting far earlier than every other year. The reason everyone said the players looked tired last Sunday is because they were tired.
    The biggest fear from my perspective is that instead of using our best players more sparingly and hoping to extend their careers, we are being forced to work them harder and longer simply because there is not the players coming through to replace them. The new Super 8’s will only exaserbate this problem because it will suit a big panel. We have lost two of our most influential players and look at the impact it’s having on our chances. By comparsion Dublin have lost Cian O’Sullivan, Jack McCaffrey, Bernard Brogan to injury and dropped Diarmuid Connolly, yet it hasn’t even registered on their performance. That’s the difference in true panel depth, we have as good as any 15 players in the country as we’ve proved many times, we just don’t have the panel.

  25. WJ
    Just wondering if the great IT Cyber Monster has gobbled up a post I made a short time ago! The same happened a week ago.

  26. He must have, Diehard. I haven’t seen any comment from you today and, from what I can see, your most recent one was on the 21st at 1.20pm. I’ve checked the spam bucket as well, just in case it ended up in there but it didn’t. Just one of those things, I’m afraid.

  27. I think Mayo will win but I’m basing that on is actually playing from the minute the ball is thrown in and Diarmuid O’Connor having another stormer which I also think will happen. I wish to God our forwards would have a go from 50 or 40 yards like you see Nally and Lee and Chris Barrett doing what’s the worse that can happen? If we lose and get relegated it’s not the end of the world despite some posters thinking otherwise I think it would give us a chance to rebuild in the less pressurized environment of Division 2 but that won’t happen because we are going to win on Sunday and I’ve a car load ready to go and about for the lads until the final whistle

  28. @BackDoorSam.

    Division two is not an option.

    Getting out of division two requires winning it, or placing second (think 10 points).

    That’s not far off the effort that would be required to survive in Division 1. (4-6 points).

    You can’t “rest” in Division2, you need to put in the shift to get out.

  29. Well Jaden it might be an option Sunday evening but hopefully it won’t. I know it’s not easy get out of division two but the last few years we have been skating on thin ice. If we go down we go down and it’s not the end of the world.

  30. My optimism is based on the fact that we are still in a position to field a relatively strong team. This team has had several weeks hard work under their belts and there were signs of this coming together in Newbridge. Last Sunday was awful I agree as bad as I ever seen. But on the other side of the coin this is a good team who can play football when the chips are down. On the Monaghan game, I believe that we won that because of our tactics. Our defense was excellent that day especially EOD. They hunted in packs that day and put the shooter under enormous pressure. Some of Monaghan’s most galling wides that day were just outside the 30 yards mark. If McManus was playing they would have been a bit sharper maybe, on the other hand if our fitness was where it is now we would have won easy.

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