BROLLY: The boys were really living . . .

Monaghan's Neil McAfam after Monaghan secured victory over Cavan.
Monaghan's Neil McAfam after Monaghan secured victory over Cavan.


Next up, Colm O’Rourke.

“Mother Teresa, JFK, Michael Collins, the Pope and Marty Morrissey. You’ve gone too far this time.”

And so it continued all week. Walking down from the school on Wednesday morning, a workman’s van slowed, the window came down and the driver shouted, “Brolly, you ugly b*****d” prompting a roar of laughter from his workmates in the front. Sometimes, sitting in the studio, you forget the nation is watching. Myself and Tomas O’Se had been having a laugh with stewards and supporters outside just before we went on air. All jokes and craic. Tomas texted me on the Monday morning to say, “Had a great laugh yesterday, Joe. If every day’s work was like that I’d live til 100.”

Problem is that when we went on air a few minutes later, it wasn’t the Oliver Callan Show, but the ‘Sunday Game’. Marty Morrissey is a decent, good humoured man. When I apologised to him he was quick to accept it. But there is no doubt he was hurt. It was a very poor thing to say and I am still cringing about it as I write this.

The game itself was absorbing, even though it was formulaic and repetitive, like Tyrone/Donegal. Cavan’s zonal defence is fearsome and when they went ahead 0-13 to 0-9 midway through the second half, the game was there for them. But like Tyrone a week earlier, they were too conservative. This is one of the big problems of the defensive system. It tends to rehearse out spontaneity and initiative. It also promotes a ‘hold what you have’ mentality.

Cavan’s hesitation gave Monaghan the morale boost they needed and a handful of attacks in the last quarter was enough to bring them the win. This is where Donegal are different. When they attack, they attack full bloodedly. They also respond when faced with danger. Against Tyrone, for example, they blitzed them with conviction for the first 15 minutes against the wind. Against Armagh last year in Croke Park, at the critical moment, they attacked in waves upfield and got the winning score. Of course they have some very good attackers but it is the fact that, within the strict confines of the system that Jim created, he fostered a sense of adventure, always encouraging his players to take the initiative. Kevin Cassidy’s great point against Kildare in 2011. Their blitzing of the Dubs in the second quarter in Croke Park last year. Their first quarter onslaught on Mayo in the final. Their heroic last gasp attack on the Kerry goal in last year’s final, when McFadden somehow hit the post from a few feet.

Something Jimmy said once embodied this part of his philosophy. It was the immortal night against Kildare when both teams, after an unbelievably dull start, became locked into a battle to the death. On three occasions during the extra time, it seemed that Kildare had finally broken them, but on each occasion Donegal rallied. And after Kevin Cassidy had plunged the sword into their chest, Jim said, eyes shining, “the boys were really living out there tonight.”

It is what makes Donegal so dangerous. Their defensive, counter attacking system is frighteningly efficient, but on top of that, they are opportunists. They go for it. A fortnight ago, Paddy McBrearty took a pass runing towards the corner flag in Ballybofey. When he won possession he was double marked, but immediately sprinted towards both, broke through, and with absolute conviction drove the ball over the bar. It was a statement of intent. Like Frank McGlynn’s brilliant point during the same period or the counter-attack the length of the field which brought them the killer goal. Look at the way McElhinney swept that ball to the net on the half-volley. Absolute poise. Absolute conviction.

In the end, it was this spirit of ‘up and at ‘em’ which was the difference. It was even manifest in the free taking. Darren McCurry is a brilliant free taker. Watch the youtube video where he kicks five quick fire 45s in a row. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. In club football his averages are off the chart. But in Ballybofey, his frees were hesitant, marked with the same spirit as Tyrone’s play. Donegal’s frees meanwhile were taken with aplomb. Note how Murphy’s body language was entirely different from his equally skilled Tyrone colleague’s. The same can be said of Tyrone’s U21s, who piled into Roscommon, then Tipperary without apology. He who hesitates is lost and Fergal Logan’s men did not hesitate for a second.

In the first two games up here, the only real difference between the winners and losers has been that the winners didn’t play conservatively. Instead, as Jim would put it, they really lived. Which is the only way to win an Ulster championship match.