Imitation is the greatest form of flattery for McGuinness’s men
Donegal looked heavy-legged and were utterly out-thought and out-fought on the day
Donegal’s Eamonn McGee tackles Monaghan’s Kieran Hughes. The full-back was left utterly exposed throughout the game. Photograph: William Cherry/Inpho/Pressye
Karl Lacey was only coming back and not up to the pace yet but that can be said of so many Donegal players. I’m amazed he lasted the 70 minutes but they all looked heavy legged.
Maybe the campaigns of the last few years are taking their toll. That’s what the evidence unfolding in front of our eyes told us.
Nobody could have seen this performance coming from the outside looking in.
The twin strike force of Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus was so effective. Especially in comparison to the pillars of the All-Ireland winning attack. Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden were bottled up while Paddy McBrearty was anonymous.
I have never seen the McGee brothers so obviously exposed down the other end. But they didn’t have the necessary support, such a fundamental in the Donegal system. And yet it wasn’t yesterday.
But they even lost all their one on one battles.
All of Donegal’s usual forces of nature were eclipsed here, but especially Murphy and McFadden. They simply couldn’t get on the ball in scoring positions. They were both marked out of the game.
This was possible because Monaghan defended as a collective unit. It was like watching men willing to die for the cause. Everything was on the line. Unlike Donegal. The 50-50 competition for breaking ball always tells you a lot about a team’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win.
Monaghan players were winning the 40-60 battles. They were ravenous for the ball once it broke around the middle.
It was like watching Donegal last year.
There was also a willingness to attack with abandon whenever they identified space to be exposed with their fullback Dean Wylie at one point all the way up the field in an attack. Mone was constantly raiding forward as well. His pace and clever deliveries created havoc.
All very Donegal like.
Most surprising of all was the inability of Jim McGuinness’ side to respond to what was happening. They lacked the energy.
They also blew confidence levels with some early misses. Inexplicable really. Their quest for a three-in-row seemed too heavy a burden while Monaghan’s desire to end a 25-year wait for the Ulster title made them light on their feet.
To a man they delivered their best performance for a very, very long time.
McGuinness has a real problem now. Clearly, they lacked the fitness of Monaghan. Their whole game is based around superior conditioning. Grinding opponents them down.
But it starts with the intensity they bring to every game. That main asset was so blatantly out-matched by Malachy O’Rourke’s players.
The fundamentals of their game, their main strengths, are just not there at the moment. I feel that it is a huge task now to lift themselves from such a comprehensive defeat. How does a team rediscover lost intensity?
It must have surprised Monaghan a little. Their excellent start, with four unanswered points, allowed them to set the tone but dominating the middle third of the field meant Donegal couldn’t edge into the game.
They were turned over more in the game than probably in the whole of last season.
Monaghan, to their credit, played like a Division One football side. It made no sense. It was wonderful to see.
That’s the beauty of football, it’s unpredictability. We saw clearly what can be achieved with the correct preparation and a system that everyone buys into.
We also saw what happens when a team stops doing this.
It changes many preconceived perceptions of this year’s championship.
James Horan will probably be disappointed with the Connacht final as Mayo were only going through the motions. I still feel their shot selection and execution was poor. They should have registered more points.
At least Cillian O’Connor showed good form along with Andy Moran. They will need both of them match fit.
Finally, we saw in Newbridge on Saturday night that Tyrone remain the masters of closing out tight games. We also saw the usual failings with Kildare. For all the possession they can win their shooting will always see them check out of the championship before September.
But the championship is richer for this weekend. The new face of Monaghan and Donegal’s entry into the qualifiers changes the whole dynamic. And that is no harm.