Donegal take a listing vessel and refloat it on a wave of thrilling proportions
Donegal were the alpha, the omega and everything in between and were just a sheer joy to watch, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
It is hard to know whether Jim McGuinness is familiar with Lieut Gen Stephen “Godfather” Ferrando, the brilliant soldier to whom all other characters defer in Generation Kill, David Simon’s TV drama on the Iraq War. Whether he is or he isn’t, you get the sense he’d feel a kinship. If not in style, then certainly in strategy.
Godfather’s whole approach to warfare is based on using initiative and putting the opposition out of its own rhythm. Praising one underling’s efforts, he declares: “This kind of aggressiveness is what I mean by interrupting the enemy’s own decision-making cycle. It’s against all doctrine, but as the General often reminds me, doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
Donegal didn’t just dominate football in winning this year’s All-Ireland. They reimagined it. They took a game that had been listing for a few years and made it a thrilling experience. In so doing, they interrupted the decision-making cycle of every team they met. Each game Donegal suited up for this summer was played on their terms, not the opposition’s. When you consider the opposition – Cavan, Derry, Tyrone, Down, Kerry, Cork and Mayo – you can’t but marvel at the achievement.
The best trick they pulled was to convince the rest of the country that they were all about getting bodies behind the ball. Nobody worked them out because they constantly shifted emphasis, from game to game and from half to half and even from phase to phase.
This is why you’d have to be wary of the pat observations that say back-to-back titles will be beyond them because the rest of the teams will have gotten used to them by next summer. Who’s to say that their evolution ended with Michael Murphy raising Sam?
Whatever comes next, we can for now salute them as the most entertaining part of a thoroughly enjoyable summer. It got motoring early and finished with a fizz. By the second weekend in June, the championship had seen 19 games, of which nine were decided by three points or less. The games where the margin was more than a kick of a ball included Cork beating Kerry and Sligo beating Galway.
Yes, there were occasional beatdowns handed out but most counties had their day at least once. Leitrim hopped up off the canvas after a 22-point tonking from Mayo to beat Wicklow, recording their first ever win in the qualifiers. Tipperary took yet another Munster championship defeat by a half-trying Kerry team on the chin and climbed the qualifiers ladder all the way to the last 12. Longford beat Laois for the first time since 1968, Antrim met and beat Galway for the first time ever.
Along the way, the usual hotchpotch of quirks and quibbles raised their head. The Seánie Johnston imbroglio went on for so long that in the end the only thing that could save the poor chap was to hand him a hurley and a helmet and hope for the best.
We saw Eoghan O’Gara score the first ever point awarded in Croke Park on the back of video evidence, only for the authorities to tell us that we didn’t see that at all at all. They swore that linesman Maurice Deegan didn’t look at the big screen before informing referee Marty Duffy of the original mistake. We shrugged and got on with the next game.