Murph's Sideline Cut: Nothing added to Donegal except more McBrearty brilliance

The reigning champions are defying an unwritten rule of success, writes Ciaran Murphy.

WE’VE SEEN IT for years in soccer – teams win the league, don’t buy reinforcements in the summer, and can’t retain their titles.

To stay still is to go backwards.  So when Donegal named the exact same team for their match against Tyrone in Ballybofey yesterday as which played Mayo in the All-Ireland final last September, we had cause to take a moment.

The considered wisdom is that you have to find two or three lads over the winter that can revitalize your squad.  Donegal didn’t really find anyone over the course of this year’s league, but then again I’m starting to be shocked that they managed to fulfill all seven fixtures in Division 1, such is their (in my opinion, well-placed) disregard for that competition.

©INPHO/James Crombie

The scorer of their vital second goal, Ross Wherity, looks capable of ruffling a few feathers off the bench in a pretty unconventional ‘Tony Cascarino’ kind of way, but they will go with the same 17 or 18 players they had last year, as demonstrated by the familiarity of the two players who came in as late injury replacements for Karl Lacey and Mark McHugh.

So what’s changed? What have they added?  Well, by the looks of last Sunday, they appear to have added a further 25% to Paddy McBrearty’s talents, who with every passing game looks more and more capable of becoming another Michael Murphy, as he was so confidently billed when he first burst on the scene two years ago.

Upward curve

With a young player you expect peaks and troughs – a stellar debut perhaps, followed by a couple of quiet games, before he lights up again.  Or a poor second season, followed by consolidation of his gifts the year after.  McBrearty has defied all of that thinking though, having shown a steeply upward curve in his performance from the moment we first saw him in a Donegal senior jersey.

On Sunday he was instrumental in the two goals, capable of scoring himself, and looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran.  In the absence of adding some extra scoring oomph to their half-forward line, they have benefited from the fast-track maturation of a guy who will be in the top five footballers in the country for the next seven or eight years.

©INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

Has the game-plan changed?  Not appreciably.

It’s important to note that Tyrone have now had three games to try and figure Donegal out, to no avail.  What Donegal now have in their armory is the confidence of winners.  Tyrone’s best spell came either side of half-time, and in the first ten minutes of the second half in particular Donegal barely touched the ball.

But as Tyrone wailed away at Donegal’s midriff, the champions rope-a-doped, and McBrearty broke their will with that lightning break down along the right wing to set up Wherity’s goal.  He kicked the next score himself, and set up Michael Murphy for the one after that. Game over.  They were outplayed for 13 minutes, and then killed the game off in the five minutes after that.  Impressive, impressive stuff.

Tyrone were dismantled here in the last 20 minutes and it will take a long time for them to recover from this.  But given Tyrone’s stellar play in the league, and how over the course of 70 minutes Donegal gradually put the lie to all they thought they knew about themselves, I wonder what Jim Gavin was thinking.

I wonder will he be taking another look at Paul Mannion’s willowy frame in training tomorrow night, and thinking to himself how much he can believe in what’s he’s seen in his first six months in the job.  A Dublin-supporting friend of mine texted me after about 50 minutes of the action had elapsed in Ballybofey – “this is a bad advertisement for the league.”

And it’s only natural to be thinking like that now – Donegal are the team to beat.  We’ll have plenty of time to ask questions about McGuinness’ involvement with Celtic, and the parties that were had celebrating Sam’s return, and how impossible it is to retain your All-Ireland title… but right now, they are out on their own, on merit.

Elsewhere of course, London finally did what they have been threatening to do for the last number of years, and won a game in the Connacht championship, which means they go forward to play Leitrim in the semi-final.

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The winners are guaranteed a place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland championship. It was said before Sligo lost this game that it was an unbelievably easy route to what is supposed to be where the championship really hots up – so the fact that London won on Sunday doesn’t definitively change the point I’m trying to make here.

But Tyrone will have to win three games to get to that stage, having already played out a war with the best team in the country. It’s just not fair, and Leitrim people would tell you that just as quickly as anyone else.  The base requirement for any sporting competition should be that to win, everyone has to play an equal amount of games.  It’s not going to change any time soon, and maybe it’ll never change at all – but it’s worth pointing out these injustices anyway, because it’s idiotic.

This week Murph was – talking to a former inter-county player about the build-up to the game in Ballybofey, and how he couldn’t remember looking forward to a first round game as much since the 1994 game between then All-Ireland champions Derry, and soon-to-be-crowned champions Down.

For those of you who are too young to remember just how good a game it was, you should check it out.

Mickey Linden… jaysis.

YouTube credit: Bryansford Gael

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