Belfast Telegraph

Donegal look well-equipped to succeed In All-Ireland final where Tyrone simply could not

By Declan Bogue

Whatever else may be said about the quantum leap by Donegal in reaching another All-Ireland final, establishing themselves as possibly the most unique team of their generation, something more organic is happening at ground level.

A few weeks back, Donegal seniors and minors took on their All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time in history. Both employed the rope-a-dope approach patented by Jim McGuinness, imitated by others further down the food chain.

Declan Bonner, the flame-haired corner-forward from Na Rossa and a hero of '92, is their manager. The copper hair may be gone, but he still remains as in thrall to the game as ever, even playing a few games back with the club as recently as two years ago.

In the three years he has been over this group of players, they remain undefeated. You heard right.

How do Donegal do this? With sheer conviction, it would seem. While Dublin have no less than 50 full-time coaches working all over the city to develop talent, a county so far-flung and scattered as Donegal do not have a single coach employed.

There's something not right about that, but then the division of coaching resources through the country is another day's work entirely.

The underage teams that enter the system are all schooled in a certain footballing philosophy. It's almost like another Ajax academy, routinely producing players of great technique, such as Stephen McBrearty.

Logic would demand that this points towards future domination. But there are pitfalls.

In 2008, Tyrone remixed their side without Peter Canavan to win an All-Ireland at the expense of Kerry. A week later, their minors won the All-Ireland final replay over Mayo.

A galaxy of stars were set to be drafted into the senior team to join the likes of Sean Cavanagh, while gently phasing out the likes of Brian Dooher.

Hasn't happened. Ronan McNabb, Paddy McNeice, Peter Harte, Kyle Coney, Niall McKenna and Matthew Donnelly were on that squad, but it can be said that only Harte and Donnelly could be considered regular first-teamers.

The transition from minor to senior can be difficult and the expectation can often stunt a player's development. However, the bonus of having an over-arching system of play can undoubtedly ease the passage.

At the start of the year, Donegal's senior panel were being questioned. Now, it is a veritable war chest with Odhran MacNiallais and Ryan McHugh restricting Martin McElhinney, David Walsh and Rory Kavanagh to roles of impact subs.

If a dynasty should develop, then they look well-equipped to handle and staff it.

Belfast Telegraph


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