Down’s outside game hurts them
Defensively Donegal began the game focused almost exclusively on denying Down goal opportunities. As a result the Mourne men were able to win frees inside and pass through the middle to get short range scores. Donegal were willing to sacrifice cover here in order to overload in the last line. Down however managed to make the most of this room to score inside. While Tyrone failed to win a single free in favourable scoring range, Down had three frees from the 21 or closer in the first half and converted all of them. Passing moves through the middle accounted for three of Down’s other four points in the first half but only Donal O’Hare’s effort threatened the Donegal goal. In order to make space inside, Down needed to force the Donegal defence out but their shooting from distance was not up to the task. Kevin McKernan’s point in first half injury time ended a run of five straight missed chances from long range. Without any threat outside, Down had no way to draw out the Donegal backs.
Donegal win the middle third, leads to goal chances
Despite winning several frees in the middle third, Down were unable to compete with Donegal’s physical superiority. Ryan Bradley in particular proved a menace for Jim McGuinness’ charges. The midfielder put Anthony Thompson in space for Donegal’s first goal chance on 23 minutes but his effort was off target. Bradley had better luck the next time he found a man in space. Having won the ball straight from Paul Durkan’s kick-out, Bradley fed Leo McLoone over the top and he charged straight towards goal to finish. Donegal had two more opportunities near goal late in the half, both of which ended in points for Declan Walsh. This proved by far the most effective attacking technique for McGuinness’ charges in the first half. Playing into a stiff breeze, the Donegal attack had some wild effort. They ended the half 6 of 11 on all chances but just 3 of 7 on chances where a goal wasn’t on.
The open man is any man
Donegal created 20 scoring chances in the second half and turned 14 of them into scores. That’s the type of return that any defence will struggle to defend. The final 20 minutes proved particularly impressive, with Donegal recording 1-9 in this part of the game. With the elements no longer working against them, Donegal’s well established passing game proved too much for Down. In two scores in as many minutes, Frank McGlynn played provider and finisher. On 50 minutes McGlynn just avoided being tackled to squeeze the ball out to a wholly unmarked Mark McHugh and he found the uprights. A minute later McGlynn was the open man as Michael Murphy put him into space and McGlynn finished passed Brendan McVeigh. This contribution from McGlynn was symptomatic of how Donegal’s attack operates. The focus is on finding the open man and creating high percentage chances. This leads to a broad range of scorers. Against Derry 9 players got on the score-sheet, there were 7 Donegal scorers in each of their wins over Cavan and Tyrone, and by 41 minutes of this game all 6 starting forwards had scored. Donegal finished with 10 different scorers in this game. Murphy scored his first point from play in the championship on 40 minutes but once again he was a vital creator up front. In addition to making McGlynn’s goal, Murphy sent Colm McFadden into space on 53 minutes, leading to a free near the Down goal which McFadden converted.
Donegal push out on Down’s attack
Having gone all out to deny Down goal chances in the first half, Donegal looked to force Down into more long-range efforts after the break. James McCartan’s charges still enjoyed some success inside, with Conor Lavery levelling matters at the start of the second half. The pace of Donegal’s game however proved telling on Down. With their defence under pressure, Down started dropping deeper which made it deeper for them to break forward at speed. In the first half Down had stayed true to their attacking instincts, albeit with some wild long ball passes at times. The second period however saw Down slow the game down more which played into Donegal’s hands. Chances from distance often proved the only option and once again the results were unpleasant with no scores coming from far out.
Down tried to attack Donegal but didn’t have a potent enough threat to ever look like causing an upset in this game. Having led a couple of times with the wind in the first half, the Mourne men were always prone to giving up big scores in clumps and that’s what happened after the break. With just six days to turn around and get ready for their Round 4 qualifier, Down have a huge challenge ahead to recover to take on Tipperary.
Donegal began the game trigger happy and never really lost that trait, with Paddy McBrearty particularly keen to have a go from distance. For the most part however they focused on building chances at speed, looking for the best opportunity to hurt Down. With 20 scores from 31 chances, Donegal managed more than that as they romped to an 11 point win. The physical edge enjoyed by McGuinness’ charges was never in doubt. Having created a goal off a Durkan kick-out in the first half, Bradley needed no help to add a point from a similar position after the break. Donegal will rightly be placed among the favourites for All-Ireland following a convincing Ulster campaign but don’t be surprised if this is the last explosive scoring outburst by McGuinness’ charges. This team is built from the back and will need that defensive mentality for the business end of the championship. In a fortnight they enter win-or-go-home territory, the machine looks tuned up for the task.
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Programming note: The next column will be a preview of Sligo vs. Kildare and that will be up on Thursday. That game won’t be analysed but there will be full analysis of Meath vs. Laois up this weekend. For the full schedule check us out on Facebook.