Fine foot­ball and finer mar­gins in early rounds of NFL

The Kerryman (South Kerry Edition) - - SPORT - Damian Stack looks at some of the stories mak­ing back­page news over the past seven days

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.

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