Mark Poland well aware what champions Donegal are all about but Down going in without fear
Forward reckons if they can bring their ‘A game’ to Breffni Park, they will be fine
Down forward Mark Poland (right) gets up close and personal with Donegal counterpart Leo McLoone at a media event for Sunday’s Ulster SFC semi-final at Kingspan Breffni park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
There are lots of bold and eloquent ways of describing what Donegal are capable of doing in Sunday’s Ulster football semi-final, and Down forward Mark Poland is not exactly denying this.
“Look,” he says, “if we concede anything like the scores we did the last day we’ll be sent straight back up the road with our tails between our legs. Simple as that.”
Poland’s observation is doubly apt – especially considering “the last day”, they conceded 1-15 to Derry in the quarter-final. Then there’s the 2-18 they allowed Donegal to rack up against them in last summer’s Ulster final, 1-13 of which came in the second half.
That 11-point win represented Donegal’s biggest victory margin in the 2012 championship. Towards the end, even Down manager James McCartan had to stand back in admiration, removing his earpiece as a gesture of his complete and utter surrender to Donegal’s ravaging superiority.
What Poland offers, with equal simplicity, however, is the potential within Down to seriously test the All-Ireland champions – perhaps even put a halt to their quest for a third successive Ulster title.
Speaking at a pre-match event in Kingspan Breffni Park, the venue for Sunday’s game, Poland sounded quietly confident that the thrill and fear of the rollercoaster ride that was their quarter-final against Derry will have served them well.
Down let Derry score 1-9 in the first half, then hit back with 2-5 within 14 minutes of the second half, winning by five points in the end.
“Again we know if we concede those kind of scores against Donegal we’ll be out on a whimper. We also know we’re not going to get nearly as much space in the forward line as the last day. Goal chances will be few and far between. Which just means that any few chances we do get we’re going to have to take.
“But really it’s about tightening up all over the field, regarding conceding scores. I think what happened in the first half against Derry was probably just a lack of concentration. It’s definitely not a lack of confidence.
“I’d say we’re quite a confident bunch. I know against Derry we had a good talk at half- time, and just made sure we were a lot harder to break down in the second half.
“We also made sure to win more ball at midfield, which helped too. So really, it’s just about being a wee bit more concentrated all over the field.”
Concentration, however, will only get you so far against Donegal. The way they wore down Tyrone in their quarter-final, limiting them to 10 points, and only three in the second half, was typical of their ruthless strength over the 70 minutes.
Poland, who played a fine game against Derry, scoring 1-2 from play, admits trying to just match Donegal’s power is daunting (remembering perhaps what happened when Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill tried to take on Donegal full back Neil McGee).
“Well, of course the way the modern game is, most teams try to get a lot of bodies behind the ball.
“But I think it depends a lot too on who wins the midfield battle. And picks up most of the breaks. We’ll have to be a lot harder to break down this time.”
While Donegal have now won their last nine matches in Ulster (and last summer became the first team to retain the title from the preliminary round) it’s worth recalling the last team to actually beat them in the province was Down, in May 2010, winning the quarter-final after extra-time, 1-15 to 2-10.
Last year’s Ulster final
Poland thinks back to last year’s Ulster final too and reckons Down weren’t as far away as the final score suggested:
“I think after 40 or 45 minutes there was still only a point or two between us. Then maybe we just switched off for a couple of minutes, they broke through for a second goal, and that killed the game, really.
While Donegal also got the better of Down in the league (although both teams ended up relegated to Division Two), Poland is certain if they bring their “A” game to Cavan on Sunday, which McCartan reckoned they finished up with against Derry, then there is nothing to fear.
“Well, we have huge respect for Donegal. But at the same time if you go out against any team fearing them then you’ll definitely come out the wrong end of it.
“We’re confident about our own panel of players, and that if we can go out and play to our potential, keep things tight at the back, we certainly believe we can win the game.
“We’re under no illusions either, and know this is going to be a massive test. It’s a great challenge, one we’re really looking forward to, and were going in there with no fear.”