Donegal On The Mend?
Donegal were dead men walking, their existence in the Championship a mere technicality of the qualifier system. They were the last-round, punchdrunk fighter, waiting for either the bell or a fist to put them out of their misery.
Some sages even thought Leitrim would inflict the fatal blow, and pointed 'smart' money Shannon-side ahead of the sides' round one qualifier meeting. Even when Donegal pulled through that one, those who know about these things rested easier with Westmeath in the next round than the fallen-giants of the north-west.
So Donegal went from the status of Sam Maguire Maybes to hopeless qualifier pond-life in, literally, a matter of weeks.
Not that the GAA's chattering classes weren't within their rights to take this view. This sheer descent of esteem reflects the feeling many have about Donegal: like an ex-convict in your employ, you take their rehabilitation at face value, but a couple of misplaced handpasses later and they've made off with the takings.
Truly Donegal's defeat to Tyrone was abject viewing. Those of us who watched it through the gaps in our fingers consoled ourselves by using the other hand to throw garlands at Tyrone. But Tyrone's performances either side of that game - a stodgy and narrow win over Fermanagh, and a business-like, but hardly earth-shattering defeat of Monaghan in the Ulster final - don't help alleviate concerns over the troubles of Tyrconnell.
The direct play which had served Donegal well in the league vanished shortly after their 8th minute goal, to be replaced with the futile funk of the pass-the-buck football that represents Donegal at their worst. Tyrone's half-backs attacked from deep at will, brushing aside the overrun Donegal backs, and midfield (an area in which it is normally felt Tyrone can be got at) was ceded totally. It was as bad as it looked.
But, despite receiving the last rites, a spell in the field hospital of the qualifiers has, it seems, rightly rejuvenated Brian McIver's side. They had the stomach to repel a feisty Leitrim side, and then went down to Mullingar and demolished a confident Westmeath, the 5 point win being, reportedly, a 10 pointer in real terms.
No better test of their health than this Monaghan team, then, who have been one of the coming sides for several seasons now. Having more than held their own against Tyrone and having two weeks recovery time, they should not be experiencing any post-provincial final depression, the curse of many a side at this juncture.
Let's see if Donegal's bandages will hold.