Kevin Madden: Donegal look like a rudderless ship

Michael Murphy's efforts before his ridiculous black card were in vain as Donegal were found wanting against Galway Picture by Philip Walsh

WELL few of us saw that coming. Or did we?

If we care to look a little deeper, perhaps it was actually inevitable that Donegal would flop badly should they happen to meet another side with some serious firepower.

After their poor display against Tyrone it looked like they had recovered well. Wins over Longford and Meath had given some valuable experience to a young team trying to find their way.

I don't think any of us would have thought for a second that Donegal were good enough to properly challenge for the big prize, but few could have imagined either that they'd be hammered by a team who just two weeks ago were destroyed themselves in a Connacht final by Roscommon.

But was this result and capitulation on Saturday night really that big a shock?

After a 15-point hammering it begs the question of who the real Donegal are and equally are Galway actually a better side than we have been led to believe?

It's not that difficult to recall the last time Donegal conceded 4-17 or the equivalent of 29 points in a Championship match.

On the 4th of August 2013, that was the exact tally that Mayo accumulated as they disposed of a Donegal team who were empty of gas, clearly burnt out, with nothing left to give after three years of relentless work.

But Saturday night was different. They didn't appear tired but they did look like a team devoid of a proper edge both with and without the ball.

They lacked appetite, intensity, direction and leadership. Donegal still attacked in lines and at different angles like before, but without the same penetration and at times the support wasn't even there for the man on the ball. Remember the instance where Michael Murphy got turned over in the first half? Where were the men busting off his shoulder I thought to myself. It looked like an attempt to imitate the same plan that has worked for Donegal in the past but without the same intensity, experience, and execution.

We even saw Mark McHugh back in the sweeper role but in reality Donegal have been forced to blood too many players at the one time and that rarely works seamlessly at this level.

Michael Murphy is a tremendous leader and still a fantastic player but too many of his comrades have retired, and too many are no longer at the same level of a few years ago.

I was a little surprised to see Frank McGlynn playing in the forward line and it was sad to see such a fantastic servant subbed before half-time.

I was also surprised that Donegal didn't play Murphy closer to goal in this game and go with a more direct kicking game from the off. Roscommon exposed the Galway full-back line with the high ball in the Connacht final so I thought this was an area they'd target.

On occasions when it went in long and high there was panic as McBrearty fetched one and banged it off the bar. But rarely at this stage of the competition can you expect one forward to be winning a game for you.

But if Donegal missed a trick or two in attack, it was at the other end of the field where they rolled over far too easy. The second half of the first half was a complete disaster as they went from a point ahead at 0-5 to 0-4 to ending the half 3-9 to 0-7 in arrears.

Galway were dominating both kick-outs but it was the lack of resistance offered by Donegal when the Tribesmen entered their defensive '50' which was shocking. In their defeat to Tyrone I wrote the following in my Monday column:

"When an opponent enters their defensive '50' you normally expect Donegal to meet them with intense tackling with any shots conceded under immense pressure. As the game went on the Donegal defending got worse and only for Mark Anthony McGinley they could have shipped four or five goals."

Again on Saturday night Donegal had 12 and 13 men defending behind the ball. But I use that term loosely as the ability to press, close down and tackle effectively was extremely poor. It was very 'Zombie' like at times as too many bodies would suck towards the ball with no awareness that a Galway man was actually sneaking in behind unmarked.

When you do that you could have 20 men behind the ball and it still wouldn't matter. The structure of what they were trying to do was devoid of any cohesion and the communication among the players had to be non-existent for this to happen so easily on so many occasions.

Galway are undoubtedly the Jekyll and Hyde of Gaelic football. They have some fantastic footballers and when they are on form they play a very direct and attractive brand of football.

They also have little to learn in the cynicism stakes as they know how to systematically foul and manage a game when in front.

You could see the frustration of the Donegal players but the referee on Saturday night was out of his depth. His interpretation of what constitutes a black card offence was shocking with the Michael Murphy one particularly bad. It is time for a proper review because the rule just isn't working.

The Tribesmen's All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry could be a real cracker. In the last two Championships, Galway have beaten Mayo twice and Donegal once but lost to both Roscommon and Tipperary. It seems the bigger the opponent the more they will raise their game so they are not to be underestimated.

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