OISIN MCCONVILLE: Donegal's antics a ploy to conceal fitness issues

Having seen Donegal twice this summer, they seem determined to be public enemy number one.

Some of what they’re doing on the field is cute, like Kieran Gillespie taking Fintan Kelly out of the game for Odhrán MacNiallais’ goal, but it’s their questioning of every single decision that leaves a bad taste.

It’s going back to the bad old days of Chelsea and Arsenal, when they were chasing and surrounding the referee. It’s a variation of what Ronaldo does when he throws his hands up in the air after one of his team-mates makes a mistake. A referee can’t give a free against Donegal otherwise they’re all up in arms.

It’s clearly a tactic to slow the game down because they don’t have the level of fitness required to play this high- velocity style anymore. It’s gamesmanship, there’s method to it but it also shows what they are lacking.

I was expecting more from Donegal in the last couple of years but it’s just not happened. They are a tired team who really could do with a change of template in the way they play football. What they’re continuing to do is sapping them.

One of their big changes is putting Michael Murphy into full-forward for half an hour, but everybody has seen that. Murphy did quite well in patches against Monaghan, but it’s almost as if Vinny Corey has this sign over him and Murphy needs six or seven points for people to say he finally got the better of Corey.

I felt in the game against Fermanagh that Donegal lacked pace. The upside of Neil McGee’s sending-off was it saw Kieran Gillespie introduced. I had Gillespie in Dundalk IT and while he has some raw edges he has speed to burn. That came in handy the last day because while the McHughs brought pace Frank McGlynn was getting forward as quickly as he has done in the past.

Monaghan’s big problem always seems to be three or four of their best players underperforming. Darren and Kieran Hughes weren’t at the top of their form in the drawn game and apart from Owen Duffy their forward line didn’t perform in general play.

How they stayed in the game was through dogged determination. They have a real will to win, developed over the last three or four years. Monaghan have much more room for improvement and under Malachy O’Rourke they haven’t had back-to-back poor performances. They have a little bit extra under the bonnet and Donegal seemed to me the team that least wanted a replay.

The standard of free-taking in both of last month’s Ulster semi-finals was abysmal. Conor McManus might have kept Monaghan in the game but he missed a couple. Michael Murphy missed three and Paddy McBrearty one. I’ve no doubt Donegal would have won had they kicked those frees early in the second- half but their troubles in that area aren’t as big as Tyrone’s. Niall Morgan comes back into goal for them tomorrow for a number of reasons, one of them being free-taking. At present, Tyrone are converting about 40% of their frees at goal. That is simply not good enough. In the drawn game against Cavan, they had four different free-takers. In the Division 2 final, they had five. That shouldn’t sit well with them when you see how solid Dean Rock and Cillian O’Connor are for their counties.

Michael O’Neill is unfortunate because his kick-outs have improved a lot but with those three goals also in mind, Mickey Harte is thinking of how good a shot-stopper Morgan is and he may also a better talker too. But it seems crazy that for all the talented players at his disposal, he is relying on a goalkeeper to help improve on frees.

Morgan has learned a lot since his championship debut in Ballybofey when he kicked over the first free only to miss the next five. But I would be concerned that there is too much chopping and changing in regards to free-taking responsibility and it could haunt them at a latter stage.

Cavan won’t be brushed aside too easily. They know they can put it up to Tyrone again and will be buoyed by how they were able to stay in the game the last day even though, as Terry Hyland admitted, they played below par.

More will be needed from Gearóid McKiernan. He’s faced Tyrone four times this year and has been anonymous each time. Terry Hyland had him in a variety of positions the last day to try and make an impact but it didn’t work and he was lucky not to be substituted. More will be expected of Killian Clarke too after his move from full-back to the full-forward line didn’t work so well.

Tyrone, without doubt, will sort their defensive problems but their free-taking remains a nagging doubt and Cavan are a stubborn side.


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