21 May 2022

Changed times from the Donegal-Derry clashes of the '90s says Gary Walsh

Changed times from the Donegal-Derry clashes of the '90s says Gary Walsh

Hugh McFadden celebrates his goal with Patrick McBrearty when the sides met in 2018 Picture: Sportsfile

A Donegal-Derry clash in the Ulster senior championship would normally send pulses racing but the clash on Sunday next will be much different to the battles which the counties had in the early 1990s.
The Donegal goalkeeper back then, Gary Walsh, has been working in Derry City for a good part of his life and he is in a good position to shed some light on what the Oak Leaf county will bring to the table in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey on Sunday next.
The game, however, is not big news in the city with only Ben McCarron from the Steelstown club - part of the Derry panel.
"There is no big news about the game around the City," says Walsh, who feels that the GAA is still very much based in rural Derry.
"If that had been a home match for Derry, I wouldn't be surprised if they wanted to play it in Owenbeg. They mightn't be allowed to, it being a championship match, but they wouldn't really want to come to Celtic Park."
The former Aodh Ruadh man, who has been part of backroom staff of various Donegal teams in recent years, says that the present Derry team is much different, in personnel but especially in their more offensive approach.
"There has been a lot of new faces around the panel this year.
"I suppose the big thing about Derry this year is their scoring. They have actually put up some big scores. And I was looking there, the defence is still fairly tight as well.
"Like last year, you couldn't have watched them. I don't know if it was the player power, or the people power around Derry, I would think that the Derry people wouldn't have put up with that for another year."
Walsh felt that initially Rory Gallagher had Derry playing a very defensive game, similar to Donegal in the early years when he was coach alongside Jim McGuinness.
"Derry (last year) would have reminded you of Donegal in 2011. Whether they are able to transition like Donegal did in 2012 is the thing you would be asking yourself now. Have they got the balance right.
"Derry have always had a lot of good natural footballers. The likes of Chrissy McKaigue would be fond of going forward as well as being a good defender.
"The likes of this blanket defence wouldn't have suited fellas like him. You would think that they might have abandoned the blanket defence but their defence still seems to be fairly tight still."
However, while they have been scoring heavy, Walsh feels that they will keen not to let Donegal have it their own way on Sunday next.
"They are not going to let Donegal play (their natural game). That's one thing that Rory (Gallagher) won't do. They will not want Donegal to take over the game. They will keep it tight early on.
"They seem to have two main scorers in Shane McGuigan and Niall Loughlin taking frees. At the other side I suppose Declan (Bonner) is looking at that too."
Walsh feels that Derry will be strong around the midfield area with the return of Conor Glass from Australia. "Yeah, Conor Glass is back from Australia and playing very well. Him and Conor Doherty and Emmet Bradley would be the three main players around the middle of the field. Emmet Bradley has been around there for a while and Conor Glass was a great minor and went to Australia. He has come back and is getting better all the time. He will have to be watched as well.
"There will be a lot of names that Donegal people might not have heard of much at all, especially with Derry not doing that well in the last couple of years. But listen, it's like everything in Ulster, they have to be beaten.
"You see at the weekend Fermanagh put up a decent show and Antrim put up a decent show for spells. So you would be expecting Derry to keep it tight at the start and Donegal to just wear them down eventually. But there are no guarantees in Ulster."
Asked about the dilemma for Declan Bonner on whether to play Michael Murphy, Walsh feels it would be a big risk.
"I would say possibly Michael made his own decision last week and knowing Michael and his attitude and the person he is, he doesn't want to miss any game for Donegal. Look at Shane Walsh for Galway, it was 50/50 whether they would let him play. He went 50/55 minutes into the game before he pulled the hamstring again.
"Hopefully, the way Michael pulled up he may not have done too much damage. If it were me I would be leaving him off at the start and hopefully not needing him.
"If you get over Derry, you are really stepping up to the mark after that. On the balance of things they can't start him. It's not worth the risk," said Walsh, who said that it depends on many things, such as the weather.
When asked what differences did he see in the game from the time he was between the posts for Donegal and nowadays, he quips: "You would be here all night.
"I wouldn't like to be there now kicking the ball out," said Walsh, who agreed that Shaun Patton has perfected that part of the game. "Back in our day you had the likes of Molloy and Murray out in the middle of the field and if you didn't kick it out to them, you'd be the worst in the world. If you went short and it didn't work out you were in trouble. Mind you some of the boys in the full-back line didn't want the ball anyway," quipped Walsh.
"But seriously, all the 'keepers are perfecting it now. It takes a couple of years and it's all about possession now.
"Was it Kevin McStay who had a stat last week that 2-20 of Donegal's 2-25 against Down came from either a Donegal kick-out or a Down kick-out. I presume he meant that it came directly from those kick-outs," said Walsh.
But overall the All-Star from 1992 feels that Donegal will have enough to get over Derry on Sunday.
"I think they are strong enough. No matter what Rory (Gallagher) comes up with, I feel Donegal have got the players all over the field," said Walsh, who said that Donegal were able to battle back without Michael Murphy in the league games against Monaghan and Armagh.
"And no offence to Derry, I don't think they are as good as Monaghan or even Armagh at this stage. I feel Donegal will have too much for them at this stage."
As for interest in the game, he says that there isn't much around the City.
"There are some good GAA people in Derry City but there is no huge interest in it. Then when there are only 500 going, there isn't the same interest. And I suppose the players will take up most of the allocation.
"The diehards will be on the looking out for tickets and Malachy McCann might put up his crane again. I see they are talking about playing the two semi-finals in the North where they might be able to get 1,500 to 2,000 at the matches," says Walsh.

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