ALL-IRELAND SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER-FINAL GROUP ONE
DONEGAL V MEATH
Sunday, MacCumhaill Park, 2pm
ON one weekend at Clones last month we got an insight into why Donegal’s Jamie Brennan and Armagh’s Rian O’Neill are the two most exciting young prospects in Ulster football right now. Watch their goals again closely for proof.
At inter-county level where skillsets are often ridiculously good, goal-scoring remains one area that could be improved on considerably.
So many shots are blasted hard and straight at the goalkeeper or covering defenders with only Dublin appearing capable of finishing properly on a consistent basis.
In the space of less than 24 hours, Armagh and Donegal fans were left with reason to be excited.
On the Saturday night as Armagh and Monaghan’s Qualifier clash hung in the balance, O’Neill broke through and at the point where 99 percent of players would have shot and would have been blocked down by the diving Rory Beggan or Drew Wylie on the line, the player delivered a bounce dummy to find the pocket of space that allowed him to finish to the net.
The next day in the Ulster final, Brennan found himself in a similar position with the ball trickling along the ground and three Cavan players around him.
Goalkeeper Raymond Galligan dropped to the ground in the centre of the goal while Killian Clarke stationed himself behind him with the pair ready to get their foot or hand to the shot. Instead Brennan cleverly cut across himself and guided the shot into the far corner.
Both goals may not have appeared extraordinary, but there were skills on show that vindicated the excitement around the pair.
Brennan has been doing it all summer.
Four points from play against Fermanagh, a sensational showing that produced 1-3 against Tyrone and then another 1-4 against Cavan. He’s lit up the championship.
It’s not only the goals that were expertly finished with some of his points drawing gasps as the Bundo ran man found the range with little or no backlift and seemingly no space.
“It’s not something I practice,” Brennan said of his somewhat unique kicking style.
“People mention it to me. Sometimes you’re being closed down and you just have to get your shot away.
“I’d never practice kicking a ball like that. Players are so well drilled and developed that if you give them that second you’re going to be closed down or turned over.”
Finding gaps for shots has been his calling card all season and Meath must be wondering how they are going to contain Donegal ahead of Sunday’s trip to
Ballybofey for their ‘Super Eight’ opener.
The twin threat of Murphy and McBrearty was meant to be the main conundrum coming out of the Tir Chonaill county, now you have Brennan to deal with it too.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Brennan said of the Royal challenge.
“It’s been a really enjoyable Ulster campaign. The first goal at the start of the year was to win it again.
“We’ve done that now, thankfully.
Early on in the league things probably looked a little shaky against the likes of Tipperary and Fermanagh. If we didn’t beat Armagh that night in Ballybofey we’d probably still be playing Division Two football.
“But getting out of it and winning the league final was a real platform. We’d a great run in then in terms of preparations for the Ulster Championship.”
Brennan, who helped his county to the 2014 All-Ireland minor final where they lost to Kerry, has been involved in the senior squad since 2016.
His game-time has been ramped up year-by-year but it’s only in 2019 that he has really made his mark, and he simply puts that down to gathering experience.
“I think it’s just settling in a bit more. It takes time.
“I’ve been part of the senior panel now for three or four years. It just doesn’t happen overnight. But we’re all playing with confidence now too and that’s a big help.
“You’re always trying to better yourself. You want to improve constantly.
When you see lads like Patrick and Michael out there every night after training doing extra kicking and so on, you want to be matching that.
“Watching Donegal experience an All-Ireland win, that was a great thing for us as underage players to see. We were 16 at the time, (we were) all at the match.
“Two years latter we were in an All-Ireland minor final when they were back in a senior one. It just shapes you. You want to get in and get a taste of all of that at senior level.”
A few years on and it’s now Brennan who is now starting to inspire young players in the county. Ulster was his breakthrough act; the ‘Super Eights’ can confirm his spot as one of the most exciting young talents in the game today.