Donegal’s accuracy and discipline enough to see them to a third Ulster title in a row

Monaghan will have no fear of the All-Ireland champions but won’t find a way to beat them

It was a Benny Coulter goal deep into injury-time on May 30th, 2010, that last beat Donegal in the Ulster Championship. Or if you want to get really technical about it, it was a last-minute point by Antrim substitute Kevin O'Boyle on June 15th, 2009, that last beat them in 70 minutes.

Take Monaghan tomorrow and they'll become only the fourth county to win three Ulster titles in a row. You may have heard Jim McGuinness say it once or twice this week. It certainly seems to be the main motivational bee in his bonnet ahead of this final.

All the same, it’s probably fair to point out that while three Ulster titles on the bounce is not to be sniffed at – and certainly wouldn’t be by Monaghan who are chasing their first title in 25 years – Donegal’s reign has coincided with one of the Ulster Championship’s less stellar periods. They’ve held their end up but the rest can’t say the same.

Their route to the final this year looked booby-trapped yet they’ve been well able to dance their way through. Tyrone hung with them until they could hang no more; Down got within reach but grasping was never an option.


And all this with the first cracks beginning to show in their bodies – Karl Lacey, Mark McHugh, Frank McGlynn, David Walsh, Anthony Thompson and Neil Gallagher have all missed championship minutes through injury this summer. Yet on they go.

They will fall eventually but it’s hard to see it this year. Down provided a template by staying in the game but they weren’t accurate enough when the time came to make the scoreboard sing. Donegal did to them what they’ve been doing all along – they built a lead and kept it.

In 15 championship matches under McGuinness, they’ve led at half-time on 11 occasions, been level once and never trailed by more than two.

Of the eight goals they scored en route to the All-Ireland last year, six came in the first half.

Accuracy and discipline
For Monaghan to break the cycle, they need accuracy and discipline. Reports from their challenge match against Mayo last week suggest no sparing of timber and if they make this a war from the start, their more eager defenders will have to tread lightly to stay in David Coldrick's good graces.

Cavan’s erratic shooting spared them in the semi-final – Donegal will not be so kind.

Monaghan will set up with Kieran Duffy as a sweeper and will hope they can set Darren Hughes, Kieran Hughes and Stephen Gollogly off running good lines to break the Donegal half-back line.

Conor McManus is quality in front of goal but Monaghan will be doing extremely well to get him on the ball. Donegal are past masters at shutting inside forwards out of games.

One thing Monaghan will have in their favour is a strong record against Donegal, who haven’t beaten them in championship since 1983. Back-to-back qualifier wins in 2007 and 2008 featured large tracts of personnel from both teams here so there’s little chance of Monaghan being spooked, unlike some.

But that was a different time and these are different teams. Donegal by five.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times