TREVOR GILES: Blanket defence stands up to its stiffest test

A deserved win for Donegal on a day when their blanket defence passed its biggest test so far.

Just like the Ulster semi-final against Tyrone, Donegal were again hanging on at the end of a game they should have won more comfortably. And just like their last two games against Down and Tyrone, Donegal played second fiddle in the first half but still managed to lead at half-time before turning the screw in the second half.

Kerry, with their full court-press, shaded the first-half kick-outs but their efficiency up front was poor. In that first half they registered just five points from 27 attacks. Two attempts dropped short, there were six wides and 14 unsuccessful other attacks failed due to some poor long foot-passes, a lack of support play, good Donegal defending and Mark McHugh’s clever positioning.

This was at a stage when the Donegal defence was giving up some space, certainly compared to the Dublin game last year and Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé were more than holding their own at the back.

The other reason Donegal led at half-time was their goal which had a massive bearing on the outcome. It was fortuitous but credit to Michael Murphy for doing enough to distract keeper Brendan Kealy.

With McFadden quite obviously attempting a score from the sideline ball it was a mistake for a Kerry midfielder not to be standing on the goal-line, particularly as neither Kealy nor O’Mahony would be considered tall.

After half-time Donegal really tightened up at the back and the space that was there in the first half disappeared with Rory Kavanagh getting through some great defensive work.

They went from the 40th to the 65th minute with just a free from Colm Cooper to show for their efforts. Donegal were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over with some strong running at the Kerry defence and eight minutes was their biggest drought between their eight second half points.

Even though there were only three points between the sides for most of that period I never got a sense that Kerry had that real belief that they were going to reel in the Donegal lead.

In fairness they showed great spirit to get the deficit down to a point on 68 minutes. I had a good view of Kieran Donaghy’s goal and felt he was in the square when Patrick Curtin hand-passed the ball across and the goal should have been disallowed.

Tomás Ó Sé was central to the Kerry comeback as was Paul Galvin and his ability to win breaking ball with Anthony Maher, who kicked a couple of great scores, kept them in the game.

Declan O’Sullivan was a big loss when he went off and Darran O’Sullivan’s injury did not allow him to make the impact Dublin’s Kevin McManamon made when he came off the bench last year against Donegal and Kerry. The Gooch had a foot injury that limited his input in the last 15 minutes.

Kerry have now gone three years without an All-Ireland which is a famine for them. It may last a bit longer and like all great teams you lose a little of your belief, hunger and ruthlessness in the end but it has been a pleasure watching this fantastic group over the last 10 years.

It’s a massive win for Jim McGuinness and his players. Their defensive set-up particularly in the second-half is almost impregnable and Cork will need to show a lot of guile to break it down. Donegal do have some work to do ahead of the Cork game.

They lost many of their own kick-outs, didn’t create any goal chances and their forward play was poor with a lot of bad ball played into lone-striker Colm McFadden. Donegal are lucky McFadden is in such good form and is their most important player with Mark McHugh second most important. Michael Murphy has had his season interrupted by two injuries but his form is a concern as is the amount of frees he is giving away.

In Saturday’s paper I wrote of future champions making a big statement this weekend. Of the four winners, I felt Cork made that statement yesterday and apart from the pace and power we know they have, they showed a level of aggression that I had not seen in them before.

The key to beating Donegal may be to take your chances in the first-half and be ahead at half-time and this will give your forward line some space in the second-half.


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