Donegal laying down a new, impressive template

 

FOOTBALL ANALYST:The one thing you can say for sure about yesterday is that these Cork players have never seen or experienced the kind of intensity they faced in this Donegal team.

Players who are normally so composed and so sure of themselves and so well-drilled were beaten into submission by a Donegal team that thoroughly deserved its victory.

Once Donegal came out and got the early scores in the second half, it was fairly obvious that they were going to win the game.

You could see that they wanted it so badly and they weren’t at any stage going to give Cork time to settle themselves to get into a rhythm.

Donegal just put everything on the line.

The way the defended as a team was so important because Cork normally are able to thread the ball into their inside forwards just because they are bigger and stronger than the teams they are playing.

But Donncha O’Connor had nothing like the time or space he usually has to get on the ball and put it over the bar. He couldn’t function in the close confines of the tunnel in front of the Donegal goal.

The only Cork player who was able to play anything like his normal game was Colm O’Neill but even so, Cork couldn’t get him enough ball to really do damage.

Jim McGuinness has to get tremendous credit for what he has done with this Donegal team.

The physical condition his players are in is a tribute to the work they have put in over the past two years. But more than that, the intelligence of their football is very striking. The defend as a unit and they get turn-over ball to give themselves a platform to break with huge pace.

Players like Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh, Frank McGlynn and Paddy McGrath break from the defence and it’s not just blind running up the pitch – they run in support of each other and of the forwards and they take their scores when they get there.

McGlynn got an inspirational point at the start of the second half where he beat his man to a loose ball and left him for dead before kicking it over the bar.

That’s worth more than just one point to a team.

Cork couldn’t live with them. They ran out of legs the further the game went on and couldn’t stay with that level of athletic ability. Donegal marry high conditioning with high skill levels.

They rarely put a pass astray and they’re very clever in their use of Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy.

The one thing they can improve on from yesterday is their shooting, as they kicked a lot more wides than they usually would.

The reason it didn’t cost them more dearly was that, as ever, they forced the opposition into kicking the sort of wides they wouldn’t usually kick.

Ciarán Sheehan, Graham Canty, Paul Kerrigan a couple of times – they snatched at shots because they had no time or they made attempts at shots from places they usually wouldn’t risk an attempt from.

That’s a sign of a team that is having to do things under huge pressure and a team that has run out of patience.

You could see Cork heads drop on the pitch. You could see them wondering how the hell they were going to find a way through. Most of their build-up play became lateral because Donegal very cleverly closed down all avenues through the centre.

Cork were having to kick for scores from out in the wide areas, which is a very frustrating thing to have to do.

By contrast, Donegal weren’t having to score too many miracle points.

They’re very intelligent when they attack because what they nearly always do is run directly at you.

That means that your tackling has to be inch-perfect or they will draw a foul and they have two of the best free-takers in the country in McFadden and Murphy – one left-footed and one right-footed. Both of them kicked long-distance points from placed balls in the second half.

Donegal had many heroes in the game but I have to make special mention of Neil Gallagher’s fielding. I thought that for all of Lacey’s runs and the points of Murphy and McFadden, Gallagher’s catches were massively important.

When the game was tight in the first half and possession was everything, he caught a world of ball and used it so well.

I believed going into the game that Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh would have a clear advantage in the air but that wasn’t how it transpired at all. Gallagher sent Donegal on their way to a famous victory with those spectacular catches.

I really think Donegal have set out the future for Gaelic football and there are lessons here that we can all learn from. Fitness has always been important but this is about more than fitness. It’s about athleticism and mobility now and other teams will have to change to counteract it.

It was very obvious yesterday that a player like Alan O’Connor won’t have the mobility to live with how Donegal play the game and that a player like Donncha O’Connor won’t have the strength.

You have to hand it to Donegal. These players have put their lives on hold to win an All-Ireland and you’d be a brave man to bet against them doing it now.

“Jim McGuinness has to get tremendous credit for what he has done with this Donegal team. The physical condition his players are in is a tribute to the work they have put in over the past two years. But more than that, the intelligence of their football is very striking.

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