Sport

Pundits purr over Donegal's ruthless attacking efficiency

Martin McHugh believes Sunday's first half was one of the best Donegal displays since the beginning of the Jim McGuinness era  
Pundit Watch with Sen O'Neill

THE big news before Sunday's Ulster Championship game was that Donegal’s Colm McFadden may not start. In the RTÉ studios, Pat Spillane was describing the potential loss of the veteran attacker as “huge”. 

Those sentiments were echoed by Martin McHugh over on BBC as he said his native county would miss McFadden’s ball-winning ability. When Donegal moved into a six-point lead by the 14th minute and stretched it to 10 at the break, it was, of course, completely and utterly inconsequential.

Before the game started, all four pundi – Messrs Brolly, Spillane, McConville and McHugh across RTÉ and BBC – plumped for the Tír Chonaill men, but none could have foreseen the first half bloodbath that ensued. Armagh were getting a hiding on the sun-splashed turf of the Athletic Grounds and it wasn’t about to let up in the studio. 

At half-time, McHugh called the display from Donegal “probably one of the best halves of football we’ve had from Donegal since, say, the Jim McGuinness era started”. 

McHugh could also see that the half summed up the difference between playing in Division Three of the National League and playing in Division One and went on to quote Mickey Harte, who said that “you need to be playing against the Kerrys, the Corks and the Dublins to be ready for the Championship”. That must have stung from Maghery to Mullaghbawn.

Armagh native Oisín McConville was scared by the amount of times his fellow county men had given the ball away “under absolutely no pressure” and lamented the fact that his own cousin, James Morgan, was being isolated with Paddy McBrearty. Where was the Armagh sweeper? Indeed. 

On RTÉ, Brolly asserted that the game had ended with McBrearty’s goal. That was after just two minutes, but it was hard to disagree with the Derry man. Especially since he was so absolutely and clearly correct. Brolly then went on to provide pinpoint and cogent analysis (his strongest suit and what he should stick to).

“I think what we are seeing here is... Rory Gallagher has introduced more tactical versatility,” said Brolly. 

“There’s more freedom to play. For example, they are kicking the ball forward now regularly, I mean Jim [McGuinness] would have had a heart attack.” 

“Today they have simply blown Armagh away with all of the weapons at their disposal and, again, it’s the difference between a style of play that’s borrowed off the shelf, which you’re seeing with Armagh, and a style of play that’s tailored for the players and for the particular opponent. 

His cohort Pat Spillane bemoaned the fact that the proceedings were all so “un-Ulsterlike”: “You associate them [games in Ulster] with intensity, with physicality, with defences dominating... but this is men against boys. This is not a sporting contest, “ said the Kerry man.

“They’re [Donegal] playing lovely, lovely football but albeit that’s against a team who are absolutely clueless and a team who operated in Division Three and you’d know it.”

Brolly then almost purred when he agreed, saying it was indeed lovely football but “with cold efficiency. It’s absolutely ruthless. It’s planned that way.”

So with 35 minutes to go, Armagh were playing for a bit of pride, McConville admitted. Something to take into the Qualifiers. Unfortunately for Orchard fans, they clearly could not even manage that.

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