Belfast Telegraph

Will the real Donegal please stand up come intriguing Ulster decider

By Declan Bogue

Think of the Ulster final last year. What springs to mind?

The chances are it will not be the expert marking job Drew Wylie carried out on Colm McFadden. Nor will it be how Monaghan short-circuited a Donegal tactical system that was flagged up by many as the most sophisticated of our time.

No, chances are you think of 'the hit.'

Early in the first half, when Monaghan's Stephen Gollogly went with full force for the ball, Mark McHugh arrived there a split second before him. A collision was inevitable, part and parcel of football.

However, McHugh fell badly and had to leave the field, suffering from concussion.

It was one of those things. Even in the immediate aftermath of the game Donegal were hardly making a big deal out of it, their manager Jim McGuinness stating: "He got a dead leg when he got the ball and then concussion when he got the bang then his head hit off the ground."

He added: "Listen, I don't think there was much in it, to be honest with you, but he was a big loss to us, he's a big part of our defensive system and we didn't really seem to have the same cover.

"We'll try and carry ourselves in a certain manner in defeat and try to move forward as graciously as we can."

And it was gracious for a while, until a week later when he said after they defeated Laois: "I wouldn't be happy that one of my players ended up with a busted eardrum, that they were knocked unconscious and that they had a five centimetre – not millimetre – hole in their quad as a result of an impact."

Eight days on from articulating that rage, McGuinness evidently felt McHugh had made a full recovery as he named him to start an All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo in Croke Park, the hardest-hitting team in football.

The effect of some of these remarks however, meant the spotlight was slightly taken off Monaghan's first provincial title. Much like Donegal feel they never got the respect they deserved after their All-Ireland win of 2012, Monaghan feel similarly about last year.

It all makes for a cracking Ulster final this Sunday. Sometimes what you need for an explosive afternoon is a bit of spite. Their three meetings in the past year have been coloured with acidic comments between players.

Donegal continue to puzzle. In short spells they look as good as ever, in others they appear to struggle.

Take Joe Brolly for example. After their league final defeat to Monaghan, the pundit wrote: "What was revolutionary just 18 months ago now looks very outdated. When Jim unveiled his blanket-defensive, counter-attacking game plan it bewildered all opponents. In no time at all, it is predictable and common-place."

Earlier this month he reviewed that policy, writing: "The Donegal machine appears to be back in working order, thwarting all known forms of football," while also suggesting they are the team best-placed to compete with Dublin.

Truth is, whatever Donegal have, we will see it on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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