Rory Kavanagh: Donegal need 'dogs of war' to regain Ulster crown

Donegal star Rory Kavanagh. Picture by Seamus Loughran.
Donegal star Rory Kavanagh. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

Donegal need the return of their “dogs of war” if they hope to regain their Ulster crown.

And the Super 8’s was a complete waste of time and are geared towards elite teams like Dublin and Kerry.

Those are the firm views of straight-talking All-Ireland 2012 winner Rory Kavanagh as he assesses his county’s chances in 2021.

Kavanagh, who is back managing his native St Eunan’s club, believes that Donegal will not realise their full potential until the likes of Stephen McMenamin, Odhran McFadden/Ferry, Paddy McGrath and Kieran Gillespie are all back full fit and fighting for places in defence.

Three of that quartet were not available for Donegal’s ill-fated Ulster final clash with Cavan-although the vastly experienced McGrath was an unused sub.

And Kavanagh warned: “We still don’t have the proper balance at the back.

“We need to get the defence right and I don’t think we have that yet.

“We need to add a bit more steel there because that was always associated with the really successful Donegal teams.

“That will improve us by from 10-15 per cent which could be the real difference.

“Looking at it coldly we just did not have the personnel in defence and even if we had got over the challenge of Cavan, we would be still be short against Dublin and you can’t have forwards playing back there in defence.

“I know that Stephen McMenamin, Odhran Mcfadden/Ferry, Kieran Gillespie and Paddy have not been there for various reasons, but all of these guys can man-mark and they were badly missed against Cavan.

“Those boys are the dogs of war that you need as you know that they can handle any opposition physically.

“That is what it is all about.

“To not have them on the pitch against Cavan was a massive blow to Donegal.

“These are the guys that we need to push on and if we have them all available, I believe we can regain that Ulster title.

“When you take four guys like that out of a back-line you are missing something and that showed against Cavan as Donegal struggled to cope with them physically especially Thomas Galligan at full-forward.

“Paddy McGrath still has something to offer and Odhran “McFadden/Ferry, Stephen McMenamin and Kieran Gillespie are all good man-markers but also give us that physique that will mean we can really push on in 2021.”

Kavanagh has no concerns up front where he says: ''It's phenomenal and in a way we have too many top-quality forwards and they can’t all play, but that is a good complaint to have.”

Kavanagh adds that the Ulster final defeat does not define this team in any way.

“Cavan came with real determination and hunger and were starved of success for so long and they brought all that energy and emotion, but Donegal were well in it until the goal at the end,'' he reasoned.

“It is definitely not the end of the road as there is still a very young team and Donegal will be even keener to make an impact next year.”

And they were minus the highly-influential Ciaran Thompson, Stephen McMenamin and Oisin Gallen which did affect their chances, agrees Kavanagh: “Injuries have not been kind to Donegal over the years at crucial stages and if we have an injury-free season, we can really go a long way.”

And the former Donegal star has no time Super 8's strategy: “It is no harm that the Super 8’s are gone in the Covid, as I think it is all about Dublin and Kerry.

“They were a waste of time and I don’t see the value in them at all and they did not add anything of value except monetary value to the GAA with an extra game.

“And we will not go down the rabbit hole of the whole Dublin question.”

On the plus side, Donegal have never had so much strength in depth .

“Definitely, and even when I was involved under Jim McGuinness, we were operation out of a pool of 20 players maximum and you were using the same players as subs all the time,'' said Kavanagh.

“But today there is a real squad there, Peadar Mogan had a good year, Ciaran Thompson, Michael Langan and Caolan McGonagle were all very good also and Oisin Gallen is very good from the bench.

He added: “Ciaran Thompson was very good against Tyrone and stamped his authority on matters and has brought his club from to county level and it was cruel for him to be missing so much of the Ulster final.”

Donegal don’t have much time to lick their wounds as they are in a mini-Ulster championship in the NFL along with Tyrone, Armagh and Monaghan at the end of February.

“That is not ideal in a different way and Tyrone are coming again with McKenna, McShane and Darragh Canavan and they are going to take an awful lot of stopping.

“They had a great opening 20 minutes in the Ulster Championship against Donegal, and they got hit with a sucker punch-a long kick-out from Shaun Patton-to Peadar Mogan who found Michael Langan for a really great goal.

“That goal was so important, and it brought Donegal right back into the game as we were really struggling.

“Tyrone also had some great chances to win that game and it shows there are very small margins between us and Tyrone, Armagh were disappointing against us, but they will be better, and Monaghan always give you a battle.

“Getting out of Ulster is a minefield and when you throw Cavan into the equation, they will be looking to kick on with confidence.

“So, there is nothing set in stone for us, we can’t stand still, and we can’t be feeling sorry for ourselves, but this management will not allow this.