Colm McFadden returns to give Donegal a boost

How Donegal boss Rory Gallagher will use experienced forward remains to be seen

The anticipated Easter Saturday night return of Colm McFadden to the Donegal team will extend the lifespan of its potent All-Ireland winning trio: McFadden-Murphy- McBrearty.

Manager Rory Gallagher told Donegal Sportshub on Wednesday that the St Michael's man is 100 per cent fit and is optimistic that he will see some game time against Dublin in Croke Park. If so, McFadden will make his 169th appearance for the county and his first since last summer's All-Ireland quarter final defeat against Mayo.

As with the conclusion of every season since Donegal’s won the Sam Maguire in 2012, McFadden was widely forecast as being among those who would announce their retirement last winter. His return to first-team football deepens the range of attacking artillery available to Gallagher.

First-team contention

“I think it’s vital,” says McFadden’s former Donegal team-mate

Brendan Devenney

of his return to first-team contention. “Colm gives us options. Obviously from the meteoric heights of 2012, it was just an unreal year and it came at the perfect time in terms of his scoring rate and his average and where he was scoring on queue: it was phenomenal. Obviously we were poor in 2013 and probably since then his form was a bit patchy at times. I think he’d probably say that himself. But then, remember, he hit the post in the last minute of the All-Ireland final of 2014. And if that had gone in, things might have been different.”

However, the idea of McFadden rekindling the clairvoyant understanding he has with Murphy may be largely notional. The Donegal captain has been used in a more outfield role in recent seasons, partly because of his influence as a playmaker and partly because opposition teams habitually double and triple team him when he is played as a conventional full-forward.

Triple threat

Last summer and for most of the current league, Gallagher has been using Patrick McBrearty as Donegal’s main inside forward with a range of other players – Leo McLoone, Murphy, Odhran MacNiallais – rotating in support. Devenney believes that if the Dublin defence does have to concern itself with the conventional triple threat of McFadden, Murphy and McBrearty, it will be for brief concerted periods of play only.

“Michael is dictating the play and because of that, he is dropping even deeper than the midfielders. It is something that I would be concerned about over 70 minutes. Now, I understand why he is back there organising and playmaking and so many of the players seem to take their lead.

“Murphy’s talent all over the pitch is so badly needed and I think he feels responsible himself for not only organising but helping the defence and setting things up as well. But then he is too far from the goals. For us to use him: I feel he is either in full forward or he plays as he is playing now. I don’t really think there is a lot in between.

“So I think where he is playing now is where he is going to be regardless of whether McFadden is on or not. He will be inside for a certain period and you saw how that worked against Kerry or against Galway last year in Croke Park: if he goes inside and the defence isn’t ready and he is left one on one, that is where Donegal profit. And that’s probably part of the tactic.”

Of all the senior Donegal players, none went through such a radical reinvention of form and fortune as McFadden when Jim McGuinness took over in 2011. Famously, his 100th appearance coincided with the painful 2010 championship defeat to Armagh and much of the fallout was directed at him. Over the course of the next 60 games, he completely reinvented himself as one of the purest left-footed strikers the game has known. He is Donegal’s most capped player, eclipsing Matt Gallagher, full-back on the 1992 All-Ireland winning team, who bowed out with 159 appearances. Predictions that McFadden would retire after last year ignored the fact that he was one of Donegal’s most consistent and in-form players.

“Yeah, I think he bounced back from the year before, when he had a few injuries too,” Devenney says. “The easy thing for Colm to do would be to retire because he has won everything and has been decorated. But he still feels he has something to offer and you have to respect him. The fact that he has come back: you have to say it takes balls. Everyone knows Colm has unbelievable skill. He just has that knack. Left footed players, when they are really good, they are the best. And nobody has that better than Colm. He strikes the ball so sweetly.”

There is no more demanding a theatre in which to make a return than Croke Park under lights. Donegal are chasing a spot in the semi-finals and are hoping to shake off what was a lethargic display which appeared all the more so when held up against Roscommon’s electrifying form.

McFadden, though, is an old stager when it comes to marquee games at this stage. While the first phase of Donegal’s league was significant for the opportunities given to younger players by Gallagher, the reintroduction of McFadden is coming at the right time.

“His return is welcome because of the worry of the over reliance that Donegal has on Patrick,” Devenney says. “Whether to start or to come in we will see.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is a features writer with The Irish Times