Fearless Donegal ready to shift axis of power
SIDELINE CUT:The traditional powerhouses of Gaelic football will have to respond to Donegal’s stunning success, but replicating Jim McGuinness’s success won’t be easy, writes KEITH DUGGAN
IT IS SIX DAYS now since Jim McGuinness, the faith healer from Glenties, completed one of the great GAA managerial coups, and yet still the penny hasn’t dropped: the best of Donegal has yet to be seen.
You can interpret Donegal’s All-Ireland run any which way you like, but one of the most frightening conclusions is that only Tyrone gave them a real game – a match in which they were pushed from beginning to end.
You could also argue they navigated arguably the toughest run of All-Ireland opposition ever – Cavan, Derry, Tyrone, Down, Kerry, Cork, Mayo – while only playing well in patches. The common theory that the way Donegal train and work means they “can’t last” seems spoken more in hope than desperation. The beauty of the way Donegal play now is that it makes it easy for decent footballers to step into the breach.
In fact, the All-Ireland final is worth rewatching just for the performance of one of its unsung heroes: Anthony Thompson. All afternoon, the Naomh Conaill man seemed to shepherd the play exactly to his liking and moved through the fare in that unhurried, three-quarters pace style of his.
At one stage, it was noted he had managed to drift through the heart of the Mayo cover and was loitering in front of David Clarke’s goal, a de facto full forward doing what good front men do: keeping quiet as a church mouse and waiting to be spotted.
Rory Kavanagh attempted to cut a ball inside but it fell short and the chance disappeared. But what was interesting was the way Thompson had started the move by drifting across the frontier of the Donegal defence and jumping to gobble up a ball a millisecond before it reached Mayo hands before calmly reigniting the Donegal attack. Then, he followed the play, trailing it before making his move.
And this habit of wandering into brilliant attacking positions is nothing new. It was highlighted during the Ulster championship by Aaron Kernan, a guest on The Sunday Game, in what was one of the sharpest moments of analysis in the season.
All Donegal’s future opponents would have seen that television show; all were aware of what the wing back did. And yet he kept doing it. In fact, if you watch a re-run of the All-Ireland final with Thompson in mind, you begin to wonder if there can only be one of the fellow. He is a bit like Zelig – he keeps popping up.
An example was when Neil Gallagher finished what was Donegal’s last and best point, it was the corner back Frank McGlynn who was there to handpass the ball into the midfielder’s path. But if you look behind McGlynn, Thompson was the player who flicked the pass to McGlynn; another option, another distraction for an already addled defence.