Dissecting Donegal

Photo: Donegal News

After a week’s break – well, for us fans at least – the action resumes again in this year’s National League this coming weekend. We’ve now reached Round 6 and next Sunday we’re off to Ballybofey to take on Donegal. The match throws in at 3.45pm in MacCumhaill Park and Tyrone’s Seán Hurson is the ref. It’s being shown live on TG4.

Here’s a forbidding fact for starters in considering this upcoming match against the O’Donnell County: we’ve never beaten them on their patch. True, we’ve only played them up there in the NFL a grand total of nine times, having avoided them altogether until 1984. We’ve drawn four of those nine meetings and lost the other five.

Two of those draws were secured the last two times we played at MacCumhaill Park. The first of these was the famous twelve-steps-to-heaven meeting in 2018, when Kevin McLoughlin secured a share of the spoils thanks to a jinking run and a rare score secured by him off his weaker right foot. The draw we came away with that day kept us up and it relegated them.

After we beat them back at Castlebar that summer in the Championship, we then met them again in Ballybofey in Round 1 of the League in early 2020. They’d bounced straight back up in 2019 and we’d eventually suffer relegation ourselves when that Covid-delayed campaign was concluded later in the year. It took a late goal from substitute James Durcan to earn a draw for us that January night.

That wasn’t the most recent time we came across them, of course, as we also met in Round 1 of the League at the end of January last year. That match, played at our one-off home-from-home venue of Markievicz Park, finished level too.

Donegal enjoyed a decent run in Ulster last summer, making it to the final where they were beaten by Derry. On their way to the provincial final, Donegal beat Armagh and Cavan but the Oakleafers had two points to spare on them in the Anglo-Celt Cup decider.

Having already beaten Armagh in Ulster, it was wholly inevitable that they’d be paired with them once again in the qualifiers. They were and this time Armagh were ready for them, turning the tables to win decisively by 3-17 to 0-16.

Following Declan Bonner’s departure as manager (which also ended Stephen Rochford’s tenure there as coach), Paddy Carr was appointed in his stead. Donegal’s cause took a bad blow in the off-season, however, as talismanic captain Michael Murphy announced his retirement from inter-county football.

Despite this, the O’Donnell County started this year’s Division One campaign brightly. Kerry were off the pace at Ballybofey but, in a match that was heading for stalemate, Paddy McBrearty struck late to bag the winning score as the home team won by a point.

The Donegal captain has since suffered a hamstring injury that was so serious it required surgery. Paddy Carr confirmed a few weeks ago that the Kilcar clubman would be out “for the foreseeable future.”

McBrearty had lined out in Round 2 against Tyrone but it was in that game at Healy Park that he tore the hamstring. Donegal were beaten by 0-16 to 0-8 in that one.

In Round 3, they suffered another eight-point beating by an Ulster team. This time it was Monaghan, who came out on top in Clones by 1-20 to 0-15.

Round 4 brought some succour, when, back on home ground, this time in Letterkenny, they drew 1-9 apiece with Galway. Round 5 ended in another loss, though, their third to Ulster opposition, as Armagh beat them by 0-13 to 0-10 at the Athletic Grounds.

So, this is proving to be a tough League campaign for Donegal. These are testing times off-field for the county too, with their academy set-up in crisis, following the resignation last month of Karl Lacey, their head of academy development, and the subsequent walk-out of around forty academy coaches. In-depth piece on that brouhaha by Cahair O’Kane in the Irish News is here.

In truth, it’s hard to know what to make of it, aside from the obvious conclusion that all is not as it should be in the world of Donegal GAA right now.

Donegal face into their meeting with us sitting bottom of the Division One table on three points. Such is the bunched nature of the table, however, with everyone from fourth-placed Armagh down still in danger of the drop, their cause isn’t yet hopeless, though it would be perilous if we manage to pull off a first-ever win up there on Sunday.

A win for us will seal our place in the Division One final, while victory for them would give them a decent shot at avoiding the drop. That means it’s one we’ll both be looking to win so Sunday’s encounter has all the makings of a serious contest.

So, what do you reckon? Another winless trip to the hills for us or more misery for a team that’s starting to look like it has lost its way in this campaign? Let’s finish with a vote on that.

How will we do against Donegal?

  • Win (66%, 478 Votes)
  • Lose (17%, 123 Votes)
  • Draw (17%, 119 Votes)

Total Voters: 720

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28 thoughts on “Dissecting Donegal

  1. Bit like the Ireland rugby team building a panel for the World Cup , I think we can really use our next 2 games to improve fitness in some and give meaningful game time to lads pushing to make the 26 … any lads carrying knocks or niggles can be rested for next weekend.
    Use these 2 games to build the panel .
    IF we end up in the League final , then we go full throttle to win it , its soo annoying championship the following week

  2. My guess be Mayo by 6 or so. I’d imagine Paddy and Swanee will start. Possibly one or two others, wouldn’t expect anything dramatic, with subs ran a bit earlier in second half to build minutes in legs.

    Something similar for last game and Galway in final 🙂

  3. Yes, equally Jason Doc. He’d possibly be a better option in terms of physicality and catching Mayo kickouts. He’s just as good a distributor as Kev.
    Kevin struggled last year, even off the bench, but no two years are the same in terms of form. Great luxury that we can now try quality players like this.

  4. The great thing about these next two matches is that whoever puts their hands up will be doing so against two teams who are absolutely fighting for their lives to avoid the drop. They’ll consequently be intense matches, so great opportunity for any of the Mayo 26 to stake a claim.

  5. In any of the games I’ve saw Donegal this year I feel they not the most mobile team in the world. I’m thinking let’s really hurt them with pace.. I’d like to see Eoghan this weekend, Kevin Mc Loughlin, more of Tommy, Swannie, Jason Doc and definitely Paul Towey. I’d like to see big performances from Jordan again as the last couple of games he’s drifted a bit. O Shea to again start at 14 and keep working on our long kicks in etc.. finally I really think Mattie is due a big one.. in my opinion he’s been a solid 6 out of 10 for the league, however we all know he’s much better. I’d like to see him step up again and dominate, especially with his runs through the middle. Nothing causes panic as much in a defence as seeing someone coming straight through the middle!

  6. Just remember that Mayo never beat Donegal in a league match in Donegal. Time to change that with a full team playing for the full game and ending that very bad stat. Remember 92.

  7. In division 1 of this year’s league, no team has won outside of their home province

  8. Wonderful coverage by TG4 of this year’s league campaign. Brilliant for anyone that cannot make it to a match. Looking forward to another cracker on Sunday.

  9. Thedarkyfinn – the same caution I issued last night about people posting info on players that’s not in the public domain applies equally to those soliciting this kind of info. This is the second time you’ve posted the same comment fishing for this kind of info. Please don’t do this again – if there’s any info on these players that management wants to make available, then you’ll see this once it’s published.

  10. No issue Willie Joe got it, I’ve heard enough rumours and don’t want to be promoting the practice either, just wondering if there was any official update on them

  11. @FrostTHammer, I wonder has the cost of hotels anything to do with that very interesting stat?. Kerry definitely did not stay overnight prior to the Mayo game in Castlebar, and again I believe didn’t overnight prior to their first league match v Donegal. And that’s some treck from Kerry to Donegal and you would imagine very poor preparation for the game for the All Ireland champions. The Kerry hurler’s famously flew to Dublin and back to Kerry for a championship fixture last summer rather than pay the extortionate prices of a hotel.. Just another reason to hope that the 3 Connacht counties stay in Division One, where the geographical distance between us means that Hotel overnights are not necessary. We Mayo are lucky enough to be safe enough at this point in time to be sure of Division One for 2024, but despite my affections for our neighbors, I don’t want Mayo relagated to join either Galway or Roscommon should Div Two be their fate.

  12. @leantimes

    I wouldn’t read too much into it, it’s a very small sample size.

    The same stats show that both mayo and Galway are unbeaten when playing outside their province.

    These kinds of stats just crop up from time to time. You would expect it will revert towards the mean at some point.

    What that “mean” is, is another conversation entirely.

  13. @FrostTHammer, granted a small sample size alright. However having to play away game’s over a certain distance where a overnight in a hotel might help level the playing field with your opponent. The cost of this for County Boards is a real issue. Counties like in particular Mayo, Kerry, and Donegal this is a particular issue. Where as nobody could accuse me of being great fan in general of Mayo County Boards for the last 30+ years . In the last few years we had occasionally debates on the Sunday Game as regards Dublin’s, population, dominance and finance’s as regards their unparalleled success with a 6 in a row All Ireland titles, 8 in 10 years and I think currently 12 in a row Leinster titles and I think 19 out of 20 of the last Leinster titles won. Some ex Dublin player’s and indeed the moderator of the Sunday Game repeated several times that actual enormous amount of Money Mayo had spent in preparation of their Senior Football team. Now some of the money Mayo had to spend was Mayos own fault, like the time we played Galway in a backdoor game in Limerick or the backdoor game we played Westmeath in Croke Park. However the comparison was never made on the Sunday of all the cost of Hotels that was absolutely essential for Mayo to play so often in Croke Park and Dublin never needed to the same. With the crippling cost of Hotels it’s an issue that most County Board’s are going to have to address (but not Dublin) ..Of course it should have been addressed several year’s ago, it’s an elephant in the room that too many are prepared to overlook!

  14. Leantimes it certainly is an issue for those outside of Dublin like ourselves where overnights really would be needed for championship etc.
    The Mayo senior team are very lucky however in that they appear to get any financial backing needed, be it through sponsors, lotto, philanthropic donations etc.
    Most counties outside of the top few in either code would not have anywhere near the level of financial clout we do. E.g. Leitrim, was it them that took train up and down to Waterford for a game as wasn’t feasible for overnight stay?

    An average Mayo training session when all coaches expenses, food, rental of Bekan, milage etc. Factored in could cost up on or over €8,000.

  15. New pod is up for club members on Patreon, this one featuring Mayo LGFA player Fiona McHale, with whom Mike chats ahead of the team’s crunch Division One meeting with Galway this weekend.

  16. @Leantimes

    Sorry but the stats I quoted do not infer anything of the like.

    No team has won when playing outside their province this year, full stop, irrespective of whether they travelled on the day, stayed overnight or anything else. Doesn’t matter if they stayed in 5 star Ashford castle or a cowshed behind peter Canavans house

    There is likely merit in your argument but it’s in analyzing the trends over a longer period time that you’ll find it

  17. Its mad that we have never beaten Donegal on their home terf well I suppose not mad they are a top team this year no offence to them they do seem a bit off .

    It will be a tough ask for mayo. Donegal a team thats right at the bottom of the table definetly in relegation battle they will give it their all and on home soil to.

    Be interesting to see how mcstay& go about it now were safe rest players? Or go for all and keep momentum going?

    I say go for all and keep moementum going ha !
    Lets hopefully (I think we will) beat them for the first time that a long with beating Tyrone at home for the first time since 1992 and the kerry game will give our guys even more confidence early days but they are flying fit atm.

    Hopefully a good open match either way!

  18. @FrostTHammer..I hope no team other than Mayo wins at McHale for years to come. And I also hope Mayo win all their match’s outside of Connacht as well. But it’s unarguable that the reason why teams stay overnight in a hotel, prior to playing at an opponents ground is to give them the best possible chance to win, otherwise it wouldn’t happen. It’s also unarguable that some teams have been much more affected by the need for hotels than others . And it’s a serious financial burden on County Boards as well!

  19. A huge game for Donegal. Win and they give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation with the Rossies to come in last match. Not such a huge game for Mayo. Win and we are definitely through to league final. lose and we may still be through to league final depending on other results. Ironic really that we are probably not too pushed about getting to league final at all with championship game the following Sunday.. My hopes for Sunday are for no injuries, game time for those who need it and rest time also for those who need it. As for the result, it is not of great importance. While it would be nice to keep our unbeaten run going, it is not going to have much of an impact later in the year. Building up our panel and shoring up our defence is the most important thing now. While our defenders have individually played quite well there have been times when teams have run through us a bit easy. Roscommon’s second half and Armagh’s last five minutes spring to mind. Losing Oisin and Leeroy is a blow very few counties would be able to cope with. We have done remarkably well in their absence, but there is a long summer ahead and we will come up against top class forwards which will test our defensive system to the extreme.

  20. @to win just once

    A great post. I pay particular attention to minding the house and on the whole I think we haven’t been too bad considering the inexperienced back line. It is vital we stop teams running through us. That door needs to be shut and bolted.

    After losing Oisin and Lee there wouldn’t have been too many who would have predicted that Mayo would be unbeaten after 5 games and have one foot in a league final. There were many who wrote us off completely and it is remarkable that we have a competitive team in front of us given all the players that also retired.
    Our journey is only just beginning. We have a lovely mix of youth and experience. The likes of McBrien, Hession, Coyne, Jack Carney, Ryan, Tommy C, James Carr, Jordan Flynn,Eoghan Mc and Ruane have their best years in front of them. Diarmuid,Paddy,Cillian and Aido hopefully can hang around for a few years yet.

    I am intrigued to see how the forward line ends up. I longed for the day that Cillian,Tommy and Ryan were on the pitch at the same time. Aido and James Carr have really put the cat amongst the pigeons. It is great to have options. Any 3 of those 5 starting on Sunday is fine. I think we saw against Roscommon that Aido needs to stay up front. The days are gone of him running all over the field. Stay up the field and occupy defenders.

  21. Reading Jim McGuinness this morning shows how strained things are off the field for Donegal at the minute. We have been there before and it’s not nice. Could be a big reaction on the field Sunday maybe the bear has been poked. Hard to call the game in the circumstances and if all things were same at stake for both I’d be going for mayo by 5 but with Donegal really needing to win that may swing it for them but anything is possible.

  22. The Down team in their recent fixture in Tipperary had to drive down in their own cars. Some still waiting for the petrol money.

  23. @No doubt yes its not nice feeling at all must be stuff going kn behind the scenes in Donegal they are no where near their best so far anyway thus year definetly they might have a big reaction on sunday.

    We were in their position last year and the whole county felt it not nice as you said.

    Heres hoping to a good game either way!

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