The All-Ireland champions were dethroned in Croke Park on Sunday as Mayo ended Donegal’s reign as All-Ireland champions. It wasn’t a loss but it was an emphatic annihilation as Mayo gained revenge for last year’s defeat.
The scoreline of 4-17 to 1-10 does full justice to Mayo’s dominance throughout the game. ‘Jimmy’s winning matches’ will not be sung around the country this year as Donegal have inevitably struggled to make a strong defence of their title.
McGuinness is said to be considering his future in the light of Sunday’s defeat. He has a year remaining on his four year term but a new position with Celtic will surely influence his decision. While he has had three very successful seasons with Donegal I think he has a lot of questions to answer following this season and I wonder are their limitations to his current management system. Undoubtedly he deserves huge credit for brining Donegal to All-Ireland success in 2012 but on reflection the defence of their title was poor and it’s hard to see where this specific group can go from here under McGuinness.
I don’t want to jump to conclusions or make rash statements but I struggle to see a way back for Donegal and I think a lot of limitations have been exposed to this Donegal system. The system won an All-Ireland for Donegal. Jim McGuiness took over in 2011 and instilled a defensive system that won an Ulster title and saw them go very close to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final. They received a lot of criticism for being so negative and defensive but it was deserved. The system was understandable but any team that has a chance of winning an All-Ireland semi-final and still refuses to attack deserves to be lambasted.
I think it may have even been part of the plan. McGuiness was very shrewd at the beginning of his reign and I think he recognised that his team were not ready to win an All-Ireland. It may seem outrageous to suggest but I cannot for any reason understand how a team could not attack for five minutes at least when only two points down in a semi-final. I think 2011 may have been all about becoming organised and disciplined and then the plan was to evolve in 2012 which they did with huge success.
2012 saw a change for Donegal and while they maintained the defensive mind-set of getting bodies behind the ball they used a counterattacking tactic that worked very efficiently. Players like Mark McHugh, Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn were key to launching attacks at pace and the likes of Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden thrived in space. A system was in place that forced teams to play games on Donegal’s terms and there were successful in winning the All-Ireland.
‘Jimmy’s winning matches, Jimmy’s winning games, Jimmy’s brining Sammy back to Donegal again’, were the lyrics of a song by Donegal man Rory Gallagher and how true it proved to be. McGuinness led a group of players who lost heavily to Armagh in a qualifier in 2010 to an All-Ireland title. As a qualified psychologist, he was given huge credit for instilling belief in these players. He developed a system that got the best out of these players and there were the first so called lesser county to win an All-Ireland for many years. 2012 brought the ‘holy grail’ but as ever 2013 was going to provide a big challenge for Donegal and they have failed in the challenge put in front of them.
I think McGuinness has a lot to answer for the fortunes of Donegal in 2013. Despite receiving a lot of criticism for his opinions, Pat Spillane pointed before the championship that Donegal were very lucky not to receive any significant injuries in 2012 and that a fully fit squad was integral to their win. He proved to be justified in this statement as Donegal simply could not cope with injuries this season. Their squad proved to be very limited and as a result they bowed out of the championship at the quarter-final stage to a heavy defeat.
Everybody knows that it is very hard to retain an All-Ireland title. It’s very difficult to recreate the hunger and intensity required to go all the way. Darragh O’Sé said in the light of the defeat that a team needs to be 20% better on the previous season in order to retain a title. It’s very difficult to do but McGuiness surely should have recognised the need to strengthen the squad. He did not experiment in the league and they still managed to find themselves relegated from Division 1. He basically won an All-Ireland with seventeen players and there was no way a team could retain a title with the same system. No new players were introduced and it proved to be a problem.
Maybe the players are not there in Donegal but more of an effort should have been made to build a better squad. This not only would have provided more sufficient injury cover but it would have also provided better competition for places within the panel and players may have performed to a higher level. McGuinness cannot necessarily be blamed for players receiving injuries but the fact that there was no ‘plan b’ to deal with these injuries does ask questions of a manager.
I thought it was also quite naïve of Jim McGuinness not to make one or two tweaks to the Donegal team and system in 2013. For the first round game against Tyrone he named the same team that started the 2012 All-Ireland final against Mayo. I’d love to know if this was a first. There always needs to be a change or two. Teams get found out and coaches and players learn how to play against certain styles of play. This happened to Donegal this year; Down pretty much defeated the system but didn’t have the attacking quality to beat the team.
Monaghan showed that Donegal struggle to chase games and blitzed them early. They also developed a system that counteracted the strengths of Donegal and they were successful in defeating them. Mayo just simply blew them away. They started well, built up a lead and then they maintained the skill and intensity that saw Donegal lose by a margin that most people didn’t think was possible. It’s a long road back and it is very hard to see where a change can come from.
I must say that seeing Mark McHugh taking to the field against Mayo did annoy me. With all of Jim McGuinness’s talk the previous weekend about needing his players to be protected, he sighted McHugh’s injury as the primary example. He made it sound as if there was no way McHugh could take to the field but it told me that McGuinness was trying to play mind games and he failed miserably. He was trying to influence referees and others around him and I felt it was a sign of weakness. For the master tactician that McGuinness had proved to be previously he really looked to be a man who was struggling and this was evident against Mayo.
The lack of intensity to their play was the most alarming thing. It can be hard for teams to recreate the same intensity that led them to success but Donegal looked like a team that weren’t just tired but almost finished. Eamon McGee’s actions were disgraceful. No player should act like at any stage and it was an indication of team that looked fed up. Donegal played at such an intensity in 2012 that I wonder if they can ever reach those heights again. This isn’t the youngest team on the planet. Some of them are seasoned campaigners and the road back may be too long.
The defensive system, that so many counties are trying to copy now, also seem to be changing. Teams like Dublin and Mayo have been a breath of fresh air this year and we are finally seeing defensive systems being defeated through fast and direct football. It was great to see the skills of football winning out last weekend. It was great to see attack’s on top and not defences. Seeing Kerry adopt a defensive mind-set said everything about the way the game was going. Kerry are the ultimate purists of Gaelic Football but I think they were trying to prepare for facing defensive teams but now that they are due to face Dublin I think we will see some great semi-finals.
It may be a bit extreme but I am starting to wonder if this Donegal team will fall under the category of being a ‘one trick pony’. The system seems to now have a way of being counteracted and they seem like that may struggle to ever be able to play to that intensity again. Donegal were a bunch of programmed footballers during 2011 and 2012, playing to a system. If Jim McGuinness stays on he needs to change things or I can see Donegal struggling.
McGuinness is reminding me of Jose Mourinho in the way a short term plan can bring short term success but I can’t see this turning into a new era of Donegal being at the top of the game. There is a big challenge ahead. I think it could be the end of ‘Jimmy’s winning matches’ and it could be another 20 years before Sam goes back to Donegal again. It may be early to jump to conclusions but I am struggling to see Jim McGuinness’s era continuing. The limitations have been exposed and I think it needs a radical overhaul.
Boylesports have cut Mayo into 11/8 from 7/2 to win the 2013 All-Ireland Football Championship after an impressive display against 2012 All-Ireland champions Donegal.
Dublin who edged past Cork, remain 13/8 second favourites whilst their semi-final opponents Kerry, who recorded a six point win over Cavan, are priced at 4/1 with Boylesports.
Tyrone are the 8/1 outsiders with Mickey Harte’s side facing a tough semi-final against James Horan’s Mayo men.
James Horan “We were strong and hungry today, the two early goals really helped. We won most the one on one battles today. We are looking forward to Tyrone in the semi-final.”
Sundays All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-finals
Kerry 0-15 0-09 Cavan, Croke Park FT
Mayo 4-17 1-10 Donegal, Croke Park FT