For those who weren’t glued to Shane Lowry’s incredible victory in the 148th Open Championship in Portrush, there was the small matter of a ding-dong shootout in Croke Park between Kerry and Donegal.
In the end, it finished honours even as both sides now turn their attentions to Navan and Castlebar, respectively, in two weeks time.
Following the game, Donegal manager, Declan Bonner, said it was a mixture of both relief and disappointment but admitted that a draw was probably a fair result following a cracking encounter that saw the sides level on 16 occasions.
“It’s a mixture of both to be quite honest. At the end of I think we were level on maybe 16 occasions, so if that’s the case then a draw was probably a fair result at the end of the day. We had opportunities to kill the match, I didn’t see the second goal, the Eoin McHugh goal. But if we had taken it would have been a huge score in the game.
“But listen, we have it all to do now in two weeks in Castlebar. Listen, we haven’t even looked at Mayo, we’ll sit down this evening and start getting ready for that over the next 13 days. From our point of view, I thought it was a great game of football, the lads showed real character. Both teams went at it and it was an epic battle.”
The game could have gone either way but Kerry seemed to get scores easier in the first half and twice looked like they were going to win it in the second.
However, Donegal showed great character to stay in the fight with Ryan McHugh immense throughout, Michael Murphy his usual self, kicking 1-8, as well as Oisín Gallen who came on to kick two excellent points under pressure.
“The one thing about the squad is these guys will fight to the end, there’s no doubt about that. There was some brilliant score taking, young Oisín Gallen came on and kicked two brilliant scores and I thought Michael was unbelievable in that second half and Ryan really took the fight.
“But to a man, they all really emptied it out there on the pitch and that’s all you can ask. We have to do it all again in two weeks.”
Donegal’s performance is all the more commendable when you consider the number of players they lost through injury this week alone. They played the match without Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath and Eoghan Ban Gallagher while Jason McGee was also forced out of the game through injury in the first half.
A rip-roaring clash in Portlaoise saw @Galway_GAA pip a spirited @GaaClare outfit by two points on Saturday! The Electric Ireland Player of the Week sees two players nominated from the Tribesmen, and one from the Banner. Vote for the winner below! #GAAThisIsMajor
— Electric Ireland (@ElectricIreland) July 22, 2019
While Bonner did not wish to talk about the specifics of injuries, he did confirm that both McGee and McGrath are expected to return for their clash with Mayo in Castlebar.
“Yeah, listen we lost basically our full-back line. But the lads who came in did really well, Odhran McFadden-Ferry was really good, Caolan Ward and Stephen McMenamin and we got to grips with David Clifford. I thought to a man they really battled, gave it their all and left it all out on the pitch.
“Yeah, we’d hope so. The only certainty is that Eoghan Ban won’t be back. That’s a huge loss to us to be quite honest, he picked up a bad injury during the week at training and he’ll miss the rest of the season. But yeah, the rest of them should. We’d hope to have him (Paddy) back as well, yeah.”
Despite being down a lot of key men, Bonner admitted it was good to get some players game time ahead of what has now become a do-or-die clash in two weeks time.
“We were, but we have belief within that squad. Lads got game time there that hadn’t got game time in the championship this year, so from our point of view it’s pleasing as a group that they were fit to go in there and do a job for us and we never had any doubt.
“We’ll need all the experience we have going to Castlebar, so hopefully, the lads will all be ok.”
Bonner did bemoan the rule around having to name one’s team on the Thursday morning before a game as it directly affected Donegal this week due to the staggering amount of injuries they picked up.
The Donegal manager believes it’s time the GAA started using squad numbers.
“I think you should go with squad numbers. We named a squad by late Wednesday evening for Thursday morning and we lost two key players that were in that 26 that could not tog out so we were left with 24 players that we could not change. It is a ridiculous rule that needs to change so we can go with squad numbers.”
Donegal have two weeks now to recover, regroup and refocus ahead of a winner takes all clash with Mayo in Castlebar. The lead-up will no doubt be dominated by Stephen Rochford’s involvement but Bonner was quick to play down his role.
“We have not even sat down to talk about the Mayo game. It is a huge match. It is difficult place to get a result and our preparation for that will start later this evening on our way home and we will get back training during the week. It is a winner take all, it is an All-Ireland quarter-final with a semi-final place at stake back here in three weeks time.
“That is the challenge. That is the goal.”