The Irish Mail on Sunday

Donegal far too reliant on their dynamic duo in scoring stakes

- By Mark Gallagher

WHEN DONEGAL needed a player to rescue them on a damp March afternoon in Ballybofey, they turned to Michael Murphy. It had been a difficult day against Meath, but a refereeing decision earned a chance to salvage a draw with the final kick. Murphy (below) dusted himself down and split the posts from a tight angle.

It was Murphy’s sixth point of the day. Colm McFadden had scored three. Nine of Donegal’s 13 scores had come from their deadly duo. It wasn’t unusual.

Statistics from the League show the burden on the pair. They kicked 58 per cent of Donegal’s scores – the statistic is only a slight decrease on the 63.5 per cent of Donegal’s scores they kicked during last year’s Championsh­ip.

No other top team depends so much on just two players.

Mark Lynch, a player reborn under Brian McIver, was Derry’s sharpest-shooter with 29 per cent of his side’s League scores, but the load is spread evenly after that.

Alan Freeman contribute­d 26.5 per cent of Mayo’s total League scores, but it takes three more Mayo players to near their 60 per-cent scoring mark.

Reigning AllIreland champions Dublin, with their embarrassm­ent of attacking riches, relied on five scorers to hit their 58 per-cent tally.

Kerry were even more dependant on James O’Donoghue (31 per cent of scores) than Donegal were with McFadden (30 per cent), but Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan and Barry John Keane shared the burden.

In Cork, Brian Hurley was assisted by Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan to contribute 59 per cent of their scoring, while it took five Tyrone players to reach 60 per cent.

‘It has been a concern for the past few years,’ admits Declan Bonner, free-taker on Donegal’s 1992 All-Ireland winning team and current minor manager. ‘Most would be surprised it is as low as 58 per cent. We have waited for someone to step it up and ease the burden. Paddy McBrearty has been the one player looked to. He shoots the lights out at club level and did it again for the under21s in the Ulster Championsh­ip. But he hasn’t taken it to the next level yet. And Odhran MacNiallai­s, who emerged in the League, has a cultured left foot. They need someone to step up because they can’t keep looking to the two boys.’

Dependency on McFadden and Murphy has grown during Jim McGuinness’ tenure. In his first year, the pair contribute­d 40 per cent of the scores. Interestin­gly, McBrearty, then only 17, kicked 10 per cent that summer.

By the following September, McFadden’s flawless scoring was the main reason that Sam Maguire returned to the Hills. The cornerforw­ard shot 4-32 in the summer of 2012; constituti­ng 36 per cent of all Donegal’s scoring. Murphy’s 1-17 was 16.5 per cent. When Donegal started to splutter in last year’s Ulster semifinal against Down, the pair got all but two of their side’s scores. When Monaghan dethroned them as Ulster champions, Murphy was held scoreless.

‘If you are dependant on two players to do the bulk of the scoring, you are going to run into problems if one is tied up or has an off-day. Donegal have seen that,’ says Bonner.

In contrast, Dublin have spread the load over the past three years.

When Pat Gilroy led them to their first AllIreland in 16 years, Bernard Brogan fired 30 per cent of their scores. Last September, when they regained the crown under Jim Gavin, the burden had eased. Brogan had nailed 22.5 per cent of their overall tally.

Statistics can be a curate’s egg, but these figures don’t lie. If Donegal need to be rescued, it’s likely to be Murphy or McFadden.

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