The storm clouds were gathering in Markievicz Park in Sligo on Saturday evening, as serious doubts over the tenure of Donegal manager Rory Gallagher echoed through the shocked crowd as they made their way towards the exits.
While it may have been a short journey home, it was a solemn one for the Donegal faithful, who could have been forgiven for thinking that days like these were behind them. This was a Crossmaglen moment, a fifteen point defeat where we looked bereft of ideas, bereft of any type of confidence and bereft of a place in the quarter final stages for the first time in seven years
While Jim Mc Guinness is finding his feet as a soccer coach in China, his former understudy cut a lonely figure on the side-line as he tried to figure out how Galway had managed to inflict so much damage on a vulnerable looking Donegal team.
While some may have felt sorry for the Erne man, there were more than a few rumblings of discontent among the Donegal fans, who questioned the Donegal line-up and subsequent changes throughout the game. It was somewhat bizarre that Frank McGlynn was brought off just seconds before the half-time whistle, forcing one of our all-time greats to leave the field in such humiliating fashion, when the whistle was about to sound for half-time. Even more bizarre was the re-emergence of Ciaran Gillespie for the second half, who was then told he was being substituted by the incoming Karl Lacey before the ball was thrown up by the ref.
Question marks were also raised about the place of Mark McHugh in the starting line-up at the expense of Martin McElhinney and Martin O’Reilly and how the Kilcar man managed to stay on the field for the entire game. It is clear to most that this is not the Mark McHugh who won an all-star in 2012.
The fact that the Donegal management made six subs by the fifth minute of the second half could also be described as amateurish given the fact that black cards are so readily dished out in this year’s championship. Donegal were left in a situation where we had to play the second half with 13 men as Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney were black-carded and no replacements could go on.
It is hard not to feel sorry for Donegal’s Michael Murphy, who at the prime of his career, is trying to play three different positions on the pitch. He was everywhere yesterday but his attacking threat is somewhat diminished with him playing so far from the forward line. His black card was harsh in the extreme and once again highlights the flawed nature of the black card rule.
And so to Gallagher, a man under pressure, but a man with another three years to run on his contract. He says that he knew days like these were possible with the inexperience of his panel. It is hard to argue with that when you see age profile of the panel. It is impossible to have 18 and 19 year old players competing physically with players in the prime of their career. On the other hand, we have a situation where there are players out there who are not part of the panel who would add experience, physicality and a hardened edge to Donegal. Leo McLoone is the name on the tongues of many fans and Brick Molloy’s 2-05 against Glenswilly raises questions about his absence. McLoone, in particular, is one of the best club players in the county and would be a great asset at either centre-back or centre-forward. The fact that he remained on the bench in last year’s Ulster final when Rory Kavanagh and Anthony Thompson were re-introduced after coming off shows that there is obviously a personal issue between himself and Rory Gallagher.
Declan Walsh is a another player who has left the county panel after some excellent performances in recent years and fits the bill as experienced and physical. Gallagher bemoaned the lack of experience among his troops but he has let too many with experience leave the panel in recent years. Watching Hugh McFadeen deployed as a full forward and then seeing Brick Molloy in action for Glenties, people have to be wondering what is going on. That is in no way a criticism of the Killybegs man, who does not seem to be comfortable in the full-forward line.
In the interest of balance, it has to be pointed out that Donegal managed to stay in Division One this year, which was a remarkable feat and which, ironically, fuelled the hopes of the Donegal faithful, who were expecting to make it seven Ulster finals in seven years. Instead we were torn apart by Tyrone and then again by Galway. Perhaps we are being harsh on a manager who is overseeing a serious transition but questions must be asked about certain decisions he has made.
The reaction on social media has been unsurprising as they are a fickle bunch but the murmurings of discontent began last year at the manner of the Ulster Final defeat to Tyrone and they are growing in number after last night’s rout. It could be hard for Rory Gallagher to continue in his role but the Fermanagh man did not seem to be contemplating an early departure in his press conference last night. For the good of Donegal football, a fresh start may be needed, a fresh approach and someone perhaps who can guide these talented young players into a force that can challenge for All-Ireland honours. For me, Rory Gallagher is not that man.