BARRY Doherty has seen enough of both Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s to know that the Donegal Senior Football Championship final on Sunday is going to be a very tactical battle.
It is likely to come down to how disciplined St Eunan’s can be in breaking down Naomh Conaill’s well-worked defensive shield.
Doherty was the Kilcar manager from 2016 to 2018 and has watched both of this year’s county finalists develop.
He explained how Naomh Conaill’s strategy has been in place since Jim McGuinness was involved in managing the club, and when they won the county title in 2005.
“They haven’t changed since then. They set up a defensive shape, they try to break you down and then they hit you on the counter attack. Very little has changed since.
“They will push up on kickouts at certain times, but not all the time. They are very quick in the transition and setting up their defensive system. They play 11 in that shape in the 45, and then they have four players who work between the 45 and the 65.
“Charlie McGuinness is one of the hardest working players on the team. He is at full forward but he chases back. He will be chasing shadows for a lot of the time, but he is a big presence. He puts in a serious shift. He turns over then races up to full forward.
“Their whole game is built on turn overs. They get turnovers and then get in scoring positions when you are not set up defensively. They don’t bring speed into it as much even though they have that in Ethan O’Donnell. They can be very patient. They have lads who can score from distance. Ciaran Thompson scored some fantastic points.”
Doherty said that the Naomh Conaill seem to grind teams down.
“They won’t hit you at pace if it is not on. They are actually more comfortable getting their forwards into position, getting three to four player inside and stretching the play. They are all comfortable on the ball. Their defenders can score as well. They try to make the field as wide as possible. They try to draw players out of position.”
The level of planning that goes into beating an opponent is remarkable.
“They will identify weaknesses in the opposition’s defence and they will be the guys that they will run at. They will run at guys they know will foul them. They will pick on the weakest link and they are very good at it. They want to draw fouls. You have got to get points on the board.”
The key to beating Naomh Conaill is bravery. Teams have to believe that they can take their chances.
Doherty said that St Eunan’s style is good enough to beat Naomh Conaill, but perhaps their temperament is an issue.
“When St Eunan’s play Glenties it is usually a close game. Last year they played and the game went to extra time, St Eunan’s went three up in extra time. Leo McLoone got a goal that should never have been allowed. Shaun Patton caught the ball on the line. McLoone fisted the ball out of his hands on the goal line into the goal and the referee allowed it.”
St Eunan’s plan, according to Doherty, should be to implement their attacking game as soon as possible.
“They have to get into attack before Glenties get set up. With the goalkeeper that they have, they should get set up. He can kick the ball to the far 45. He has to go long, and if they can win possession on the Glenties 45 and have possession on the ball then that’s where they can win.”
Doherty said that Glenties will allow St Eunan’s the short kick out but that is no use to St Eunan’s.
Doherty explained that St Eunan’s style of play is very classy.
“They like to kick pass the ball. They are stylish footballers. Niall O’Donnell is the prime example. He likes to get on the ball. He can kick a score but he can also pick out a pass. He will be the big player in this game. I have noticed that when he is not playing well. St Eunan’s struggle to get scores.
“Naomh Conaill will therefore target Niall O’Donnell and they won’t let him get into the space to see passes inside. Eunan’s have a lot of youth in their team, but they don’t have a lot of scores. They have to get scores from other places other than Niall. They can’t depend on him to kick eight or nine scores.
“They will get men back, not as much as Naomh Conaill. Caolan Ward will be full back. What he can do is get free because Charlie McGuinness will want to do his own thing, chasing after the ball, but that is where Ward, and other defenders will have to get scores.”
To beat Naomh Conaill, St Eunan’s have to try to get ahead of Naomh Conaill.
“They are not used to chasing games. The best example of that was the final of 2017 when Kilcar got ahead of them by a couple of points. Glenties didn’t come out of that defensive mould. They don’t know how to do anything different. They like to get ahead, and once they are ahead they are hard to rein in. They are so good at managing games.”