Kevin Cassidy

KEVIN CASSIDY: The Championship is here with a bang

WE expected last week’s games would spring the championship into action, but I don’t think any of us expected what was about to unfold at Celtic Park on Saturday evening.

I am going to look at this game in two parts and treat them as two separate sections because in my eyes, that’s how the game unfolded.

Starting with Donegal. I thought they turned in an absolutely phenomenal performance. Going into the game, we all knew what Jim McGuinness had to do in order to contain this potent Derry attack.

It was obvious that Donegal would set up defensively and from the throw-in; you could see that this was the plan for the day as all outfield players filtered back inside their own 45.

There is no doubt that when planning for this game, this is the first area that Jim would have wanted to nail down.

Jim would have worked over and over on his defensive structure, knowing that if Donegal managed to get this in place, and if it were to become effective, then they would have a foothold in the game.

Once this box was ticked the next area that Jim would’ve looked at would have been where Donegal could hurt Derry and where possible cracks might appear.

It doesn’t take a tactical genius to figure out that Derry have been vulnerable on the long kick-out for quite some time now and Donegal would have earmarked this area as a possibility for success.

There is no way on this earth however that they would have thought that they would have gotten so much success out of it.

Once the first opportunity presented itself and Derry showed no signs of shoring that area up, then Donegal just went to town on it. I would say they couldn’t believe their luck as it was open season from then on in.

Of course, Derry should’ve changed that up after the first goal, or even before the first goal, because Donegal had two opportunities to score before that, but that’s not Donegal’s area of concern. All they can look at is their performance on the day, and to a man, I thought they were absolutely exceptional.

We know how hard Jim trains his team and the evidence was there to be seen on Saturday evening as Donegal bombed forward at ferocious pace at every opportunity.

I have to give special praise to my own club man Dáire Ó Baoill who took on the responsibility and went for those shots when they presented themselves. If you look back at the game, Niall O’Donnell had the opportunity to do likewise earlier in the first half but he decided against it.

Those key moments come maybe once or twice in a game and I would urge any young player to play on instinct when they do and back yourself in those situations.

I also want to praise Donegal’s man mountains at midfield. I thought both Jason McGee and Micheal Langan were superb and what a platform they gave their team on Saturday evening.

After that unbelievable win Donegal now find themselves favourites to lift the Ulster title and that will do wonders for their development.

Part two of this game is the Derry performance. Taking nothing away from how Donegal played, Derry’s performance was very, very poor to say the least.

The fact that they didn’t change their opposition kick-out approach when they were punished on a number of occasions baffles me. I’m sure they have their own reasons for that and that will be trashed out during the review this week.

Apart from the first five minutes, when Derry looked lively, they played second fiddle all over the pitch and, to me looking on, they looked sluggish and lethargic.

I understand that if you are one of the favourites to land the Sam Maguire, then your build-up approach must be slightly different to those other teams around you.

Derry supporters will be hopeful that this is one of the reasons why they struggled so badly last weekend. I do believe that Donegal needed this win a lot more than Derry did, and, in truth, another Ulster title wouldn’t satisfy the Derry players, so perhaps they have one eye on the bigger prize.

Only time will tell. For now, all the credit and praise must go to the Donegal players on their deserving win.

The reward is a mouth-watering semi-final clash against near rivals Tyrone this weekend and that’s a game that I am really looking forward to.

Check back here next week as we dissect another mad week from the only exciting championship in town.

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