GAA Football

Hugh McFadden relishing the Kerry test but Donegal must be wary of Paul Geaney and the long ball

Donegal's Paddy McGrath, Hugh McFadden and Odhran MacNiallais with Ruairi Corrigan of Fermanagh in action during the 2016 Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final match at Ballybofey. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Gerry McLaughlin

Donegal - beware the long ball.

Five simple words of warning that should be stitched firmly into the hearts and minds of Declan Bonner's young boys as they make the long trip to Killarney to play the Kingdom.

One of the county's more enduring nightmares is the spectacle of the towering, languid Paul Geaney easily outfielding the much smaller Paddy McGrath and burying the ball in the back of the net in the ill-fated All-Ireland final of 2014.

It was deadly in its execution and almost a mirror image of the perfect diagonal ball from Karl Lacey into Michael Murphy two years previously, which had the same result.

Unsurprisingly in a possession, controlled and measured era, the long ball has been largely negated by the use of a complex sweeper system to defend the fullback and the keeper.

But it still has its adherents, mostly among the grizzled older generation who claim that we are largely witnessing Gaelic handball.

But the long ball came back to haunt Donegal again last Saturday night when the Grimley Bros prototype Eamon McGeown terrorized the Tir Chonaill defence for the opening 20 minutes.

The Orchard County giant, who was making his debut, hit 1-3 and he was less effective as Donegal, spurred on by the excellent Nathan Mullins made their way back into the game.

Of more concern, this was the second week in a row that the Donegal full-backline looked a bit a fragile as an experimental Monaghan side also posed considerable problems.

And while new captain Hugh McFadden is very much aware of the perils of facing a possible Kerry full-forward line of Geaney, James O'Donoghue and the much-awaited debut of David Clifford, his main focus is on playing an increasingly central role in matters.

Still only 23, he has featured in a variety of roles in attack and defence, but reveals that midfield is his favourite spot.

“Yes, while I would be prepared to play anywhere for Donegal, midfield is definitely my favourites position,'' he states.

“It's the centre of the action and I have a fairly good partnership with Nathan Mullins already and am really looking forward to the trip to Kerry.

“It's a great honour to captain your county at any level or at any stage in a competition.”

But McFadden feels he can make an even more telling contribution this year as he is actually based in Donegal for the first time in five years.

He currently works as a primary school teacher in Killymard National School just outside Donegal town: “There is much less travelling involved which helps a lot in the preparation for matches.”

McFadden has taken over from Michael Murphy so he is taking on big responsibility.

But does the new role not put him under the slightest extra pressure?

“Not really, for whatever reason I don't ponder on it too much,;; says McFadden.

“It's a case of concentrating on my own actions, my own preparations, and by training hard, and showing good example.

“I don't worry too much about it and I hope that I can lead by playing well and doing as well as I can in a Donegal jersey.

“I will be looking to putting in a big shift for Donegal in Killarney on Sunday.''

And those who watched his progress with interest that the big Killybegs man is an exemplary of total commitment and dedication.

McFadden is no stranger to Kerry and admits that Donegal have had some tough battles with the Kingdom.

“We have had a few good tough honest battles with Kerry down there.

“ We had a tough game down there in 2015 and a lively match with them in 2016 so there is no love lost between the sides.

“We will be going down there to play good hard football and so will they and they won't want to be bullied in their own backyard.”

Their last encounter was in Letterkenny last February and Kerry won by a goal, 1-17 to 2-17, a scoreline that greatly flattered Donegal.

But once again, that man Paul Geaney hit two goals.

He can win possession in almost any circumstances, so Donegal had really better beware…..the long ball.

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