Allianz League talking points
*By John Harrington & Cian O'Connell *
Short term pain can lead to long term gain for Donegal
New Donegal manager Declan Bonner has made no bones about the fact he wants his team to adopt a more adventurous style of play than they would have been known for under his predecessors Rory Gallagher and Jim McGuinness.
The stark statistic of three defeats from three League games might suggest that transition has been a painful one so far, but there are clear signs too that Donegal are on the right path.
They were extremely unlucky to lose to Kerry, nearly pulled it out of the fire against Galway, and produced a very impressive second-half against Dublin on Saturday.
They cut a seven-point deficit back to a single point by the 66th minute of that defeat to Dublin, and the manner in which they did that should be a source of encouragement for Declan Bonner and his players.
They adopted a much higher press defensively than we’ve seen from Donegal in recent years and it paid off on a number of occasions big turn-overs that led to scores.
Donegal traditionally have been a hard-running, hand-passing team in attack in recent years, but Bonner wants them to adopt a more direct kick-passing approach when that’s the best option.
That certainly makes sense when you have one of the country’s best inside forwards in Patrick McBrearty who kicked four superb points from play against Dublin.
Jamie Brennan also looked very sharp at corner-forward against Dublin and with Michael Murphy expected to play most of his football at full-forward this year, then a more direct approach clearly has the wherewithal to pay big dividends.
Obviously you need players further out the field who are capable of delivering accurate long kick-passes, and on Saturday Leo McLoone did that on a number of occasions.
His return to the team this year is a major boost for Bonner, and he looks like he’ll be a key cog in the Donegal machine.
Three defeats from three might be hard to swallow for Donegal, but short-term pain could lead to long-term gain.
Galway coping physically at the highest level
May 19, 2013 is a day that will always be remembered in the west. Mayo came to Pearse Stadium to admininster a 4-16 to 0-11 beating on Galway.
The Green and Red furiously celebrated the success in the Salthill sun. It was a demoralising and dejecting day for Galway, who have sought to close the gap in the intervening years.
The following two Championship clashes brought further pain for Galway, but signs were available that the maroon team could fare better in the physical stakes.
Having been swatted aside in 2013, Galway can now cope with the demands. That was evident in demanding weather conditions on Sunday.
Galway have now beaten Mayo four times on the spin - 2016 and 2017 Championships, 2018 FBD and Allianz Leagues. A small, but important statement.
From the panels involved five years ago Galway had seven who saw action then on the field at some stage yesterday, Mayo included six. There is no shortage of experience despite the emerging talent in both counties.
Considering this campaign marks Galway's first foray into Division One since 2011 it is unsurprising that Kevin Walsh's charges have been primed for every encounter.
Mayo's players are more seasoned at the highest level, especially at the business end of the Championship, but Galway are beginning to stir.
Damien Comer's two early points brought his contribution to 1-7 from play in matches against Tyrone, Donegal, and Mayo. That is only a tale of scores, though, because the Annaghdown clubman offers leadership and self sufficiency in an attack featuring the pacy Eamon Brannigan.
It is why Galway are set-up to play on the break, a system that has clearly worked thus far in 2018 especially.
There is no disguising or denying the fact that several of Mayo's established performers are still to return. That will bolster Stephen Rochford's options immensely, but already Saturday week's Elverys MacHale Park encounter against Dublin has the cut of a crucial fixture. Not to mention the May 13 Connacht Championship tussle with Galway.
Dublin’s old heads on young shoulders
The manner in which Dublin continue to successfully integrate young players into the team is key to their ongoing success.
Two of their most impressive performers on Saturday night against Donegal were their two youngest players – Colm Basquel and Brian Howard who are both just 21.
What was most impressive about both players was the maturity of their decision-making when on the ball.
Despite their relative inexperience, they always seemed to take the right option and were incredible cool when pressurised by Donegal defenders.
Basquel scored three points from play and all were clinical finishes, but just as impressive was the manner in which he resisted pulling the trigger unless that was the percentage option.
Howard didn’t score, but was at the heart of many of Dublin’s best moves and was utterly selfless in his use of possession.
Another of Dublin’s young-guns, 23-year old Niall Scully, scored four points on the night and like Howard his ability to create opportunities for others with his passing and support-play was also very noteworthy.
All three players are mature beyond their years, but the way they play the game also suggests they’ve benefited from excellent coaching for a number of years.
If they’re typical of what we can expect the Dublin underage coaching conveyor belt to continue producing, then further success seems guaranteed for years to come.
Division Two is a minefield
After just three rounds, it’s already clear that Division Two is mostly populated by teams who are all capable of beating one another on any given day.
How else do you explain the fact that Roscommon can beat a Tipperary team who beat Cork, but lose to a Down team who were defeated by Cork.
The form-lines going forward are unlikely to be any more logical than that one, and don’t be surprised if most of the Division isn’t still in with a shot of promotion going into the final couple of rounds.
Carlow go from strength to strength
Carlow are building impressively on the momentum they generated with last year’s run through the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
They’ve won their first three Allianz Football League Division Four matches, and their latest win over Leitrim came in some style.
Manager Turlough O’Brien is doing a great job, and the key to their improvement has been their ability to persuade all the best footballers in the county to continue committing to the cause.
In recent years the make-up of the panel could change significantly season after season, but now for the first time in a long time Carlow are building on solid foundations.
Promotion from Division Four would be a huge achievement, and if they keep playing like they did against Leitrim then it’s within their grasp.