Brolly’s Bites - Donegal’s Doomsday Machine is Complete!

Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, St Tiernachs Park, Clones 26/6/2011'Donegal vs Tyrone'Donegals Manager Jim McGuinness celebrates with Michael Murphy at the final whistle'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard
Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final, St Tiernachs Park, Clones 26/6/2011'Donegal vs Tyrone'Donegals Manager Jim McGuinness celebrates with Michael Murphy at the final whistle'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

When I was a child, we used to hide behind the sofa when the Daleks appeared on “Dr. Who.”

The shrill chorus of “We will exterminate” sent shivers of terror down the spine of a generation of children, to the extent that the phrase “hiding behind the sofa whenever the Daleks appear” has become a cultural institution.

Resistance was futile, save for the Doctor. It was always a source of amazement and delight that even without weapons and body armour, he could outwit them, even poke gentle fun at them. Now, the Daleks are back. Only this time, they are more dangerous than ever.

The current generation is being built in a secret facility outside Glenties. Their creator, Jim McGuinness, has carefully modifed the design to create a sports version. Remarkably life-like, they have even been given electronic vocal chords, which replicate Martin McHugh’s voice at a slightly higher pitch.

In their parade ground in Ballybofey, they assemble to absorb their instructions from the supreme Dalek, before chanting in hysterical unison: “Resistance is futile, like you know. Derry will be destroyed, like you know. We will exterminate them, like you know.”

On Sunday past, we hid behind the sofa as the game in Clones unfolded, knowing how it was going to end. Tyrone could have won. They ought to have won. Funny thing though, it never felt as though they would. It is the Dalek effect.

An entirely

scentific approach

It is not Gaelic football as we know it, but it is undeniably effective. It is an entirely scientific approach, stripping the game down to exactly what is required to win. No more and no less. The aim is to eliminate chance.

Question: Why should the opposing team score goals?

Answer: There is no logical reason for this. They can only score goals if they are given the time and space to do so.

Q. How do we prevent this happening?

A. Play 12 men in the defensive area. The sweepers will double up on the man in possession, forcing him wide.

Q. How do we avoid leaving gaps when we counter-attack?

A. At all times, we will keep a full complement of defenders in the defensive area. Midfielders or a wing forward will drop back when they see a sweeper or defender going forward.

Q. Who will go forward and when?

And so on and so forth. It becomes an entirely logical, entirely dispassionate process. The aim is not to thrill crowds or allow footballers to express themselves. It is solely to win. The frightening thing is that it works.

The destruction of

St. Eunan’s

When Jim took his Glenties team to the 2005 Donegal County Final against St Eunan’s, they were the 10-1 underdogs. St Eunan’s were a dynasty and surely could not lose against their limited opponents. The Letterkenny men began the final with their usual gusto. But a curious thing happened. They couldn’t seem to create or get scores.

Glenties weren’t threatening much themselves, but the scoreboard was static. Slowly but surely, they began to get frustrated. Then, they began to lose heart.

Meanwhile, Glenties picked off scores on the break. As St. Eunan’s confidence ebbed, Glenties’ flowed. It ended in a draw, 0-9 to 0-9 but there could be only one outcome in the replay.

St Eunan’s were mystified by this novel approach to the game and simply couldn’t cope. Glenties – against all the odds – emerged the county champions. The scoreline? 0-10 to 1-5, the Letterkenny goal a mere consolation arriving in the last minute!

It was a victory conceived in the mind of Jim McGuinness. A stunning triumph of logic. I spoke to Letterkenny and Donegal’s John Haran afterwards and he said: “We just couldn’t figure it out. We didn’t know what they were doing.”

Jim’s next transformation came with the Donegal Under-21s. The group had done absolutely nothing at Minor level. Better than that, few of them have done anything since. But they could well have been All-Ireland champions. Again, it was all about Jim.

The friction is this: the people hate it. But they are prepared to tolerate it so long as the team is winning.

There are interesting parallels with Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. The Madridistas hated it, but bit their lips while they were winning. When they finally lost out to the sheer beauty of Barcelona’s football, the city turned on the Portugese coach with a vengeance.

Tactically, it is very difficult to play against. Tyrone brought the ball forward slowly, their usual mode. Their wing half-backs overlapped in the manner of the left and right-backs in a soccer team. Donegal allowed them to have the ball 50 yards out but no closer.

This left Tyrone with a shooting arc quite a way out from goal where the conversion percentage drops considerably. As the game wore on, this ceaseless running into the Donegal defensive wall tired them. Tired legs shoot less accurately.

After Kevin Cassidy’s brilliant point, Donegal had them. Of course Mickey made mistakes. Peter Harte should have been taken off. So should Brian Dooher and Stephen O’Neill. Also, Tyrone lacked bite, the essential pre-requisite for Championship success. And in the end, it took two moments of genius from Michael Murphy to clinch the game.

Donegal’s eight scores and three wides, versus Tyrone’s nine scores (no goals) and 16 wides (most of them from difficult positions) tells a story that Letterkenny people first heard back in 2005.

Jim’s Gaelic football Doomsday Machine is almost complete . . . just don’t ask them to climb the stairs!