Fine football and finer margins in early rounds of NFL
WITH space opening out in front of him he made his move. Down towards the Hill, ball in hand, making ground, he spied a chance at a score. He pulled back and leaned back before letting fly for the score of the night.
The ball floated over the black spot and Donegal hung on in there for a few minutes longer. There were times when it looked like the Dubs would overwhelm the visitors. There were times when the sky blues looked nigh on irresistible.
Those are the times when you need somebody like that to step up and do what he did. That’s character. That’s bottle. That’s fight. That’s what he’s capable of. At his best is there a better number five in the country? If there is, there’s not many.
Strangely enough the brilliant performance he gave on Saturday evening went a little under the radar. People, understandably admittedly, were blown away by what his team mate Paddy McBrearty was doing down the other end of the pitch.
With McBrearty sucking up all the oxygen, Ryan McHugh didn’t get much of a look in. To our mind, however, he was by far and away the most impressive performer on view in Croke Park.
McBrearty was obviously sensational in the second half, but McHugh was the more consistent performer. He was the driving force. The guy knitting it all together, the guy holding it together when the Dublin onslaught threatened to blow it asunder.
McHugh’s resilience reflected that of the team as a whole. This year’s Donegal side is made of sterner stuff than last year’s. This wasn’t the same Donegal side which lost to Galway by fifteen points in an All Ireland qualifier last August.
Real progress seems to have been made over the closed season. Some of that is down to experience – Caolan Ward played last year for instance – more of it is born of the confidence they seem to be drawing from new manager Declan Bonner and more specifically from the more attack-oriented football he has them playing.
Donegal were at their best in the game last weekend when they took off the shackles and went for Dublin. They played with confidence and with a joie de vivre. They look a team really enjoying their football.
You see it in the way McBrearty is performing. He’s always been supremely talented but this year of all years he’s been trusted as the go-to guy in the full-forward line. It’s McBrearty’s team now and he’s thriving. He’s got it all. Pace, balance and the sweetest left boot in the game.
Most importantly of all he’s now being complimented by Jamie Brennan up top and the pair look to be developing a really interesting looking partnership. Take a look at the goal chance the former created for the latter just before half-time.
McBrearty’s pass was simply brilliant, Brennan’s catch and turn and shot, meanwhile, deserved a goal. A touch of Stephen Cluxton’s gloves was just enough to deny the Donegal men their reward for a sensational piece of play and that, unfortunately, has been the story of Donegal’s season to date.
It’s been all promise with nothing tangible to show for it. It’s been positive reviews without follow through at the box-office. That has got to be deeply frustrating for a Donegal side who’ve impressed in pretty much every game they’ve played.
Three games played and no points on the board is not where this Donegal team deserve to be. Twice in their three opening games they’ve lost by a point and twice those losing scores came with practically the last kick of the game as if to underline the point that this league is all about the small margins.
Kildare have a very similar story to tell. They too have lost two of their opening three games by a point–to Tyrone last Sunday and to Monaghan in the previous round – and have lost to Dublin in Croke Park.
Now granted they didn’t perform nearly as well against the Dubs as Donegal did, but they too can count themselves somewhat unlucky. Their scoring difference is only marginally worse than Donegal’s and were it not for a few mistakes on Sunday in Newbridge – a kick-out straight to a Tyrone player resulted in a score – they’d have their first points on the board by now. Interestingly enough in the next round the two basement sides come face to face in Ballyshannon in what promises to be a make or break affair for both sides. A draw is no use to either side at this stage and a defeat will mean all but certain relegation. Normally you’d expect a game like that to be a tight cagey affair, but the way things are going this year with Bonner’s commitmenttoa moreexpansive brand of football and with McBrearty on one side and Daniel Flynn on the other it could be absolutely brilliant. Watch this space.