In the final round of the 2010 Allianz Football League, Donegal hosted Armagh at O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny. The price at stake for both teams, locked in eight points each, was clear – victory and promotion to Division 1 was guaranteed.
But it wasn’t even a competition. Armagh drove to victory, 2-16 to 0-6 winners, a margin that foreshadowed what was to come in the championship qualifier that followed.
That game at Crossmaglen has since reached rock bottom status in Donegal GAA, the last before Jim McGuinness took over as manager and revitalized the county in the years that followed.
But the league loss at Letterkenny was probably worse, so bad it sucked their life out in subsequent games.
Venue wasn’t a problem then, and it shouldn’t be now. After all, why should a pitch that Donegal players are so familiar with and love to play club football on affect their performance? It has a great playing surface, decent stance and is a credit to the club that owns and runs it – St Eunan’s.
But with Armagh back in town 12 years later for a Division 1 finals game, locals feel a little extra fear as their survival is at stake.
It’s illogical, but Donegal’s league record at Letterkenny since it was reinstated as a county ground in 2007 is appalling.
They first won out there against Kerry en route to league final success a little over a month later against Mayo in 2007. But from 12 games played there since then, they’ve won just once, a 2-11 down 0–10 victory over Monaghan in 2014 when they were operating in Division 2.
Since that game in 2014, they have lost all six games played there, hardly the right environment to jeopardize coveted top-flight status now. Including two draws against Mayo in 2009 and Kildare (Division 2) in 2011, their win rate there is just over 23 percent.
In comparison, the other two venues in the county where Donegal hosts home games – MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey, their main stadium, and Fr Tierney Park in Ballyshannon – fare better.
Ballyshannon have hosted 11 games from 2007 to date – the period since Letterkenny was reinstated in the Rota – and Donegal have won nine there with a draw, giving them an 86 per cent win rate. The only defeat there was against Dublin in 2009. Donegal did not play any league games there in 2007 and 2008 and 2021 and 2022.
Ballybofey was a League fortress during the same period. Out of 29 games, they have lost just three with seven draws, giving them a 77.5 percent win rate. Most of the 19 wins have come between their last two defeats there 12 years apart, from Down in 2010 to Monaghan last week.
Some of Donegal’s worst league defeats have come at Letterkenny, from Laois in 2012 (0-9 to 2-6) to Fermanagh (0-10 to 0-13) in 2019 when they were in Division 2. In 2016, Roscommon went up there as well, winning by a bit, 1-19 to 0-17. Galway have twice traveled to the county’s largest city and taken the points with them.
In 2017 then-manager Rory Gallagher hinted that Donegal would play all of its games in Ballybofey if given the choice as that was the Championship venue.
Gallagher, like everyone else, was ignorant of why they were doing so poorly at Letterkenny and pointed out at a pre-league press conference that they trained there as much as anywhere, with the exception of Ballybofey and Convoy – the county’s center of excellence.
As All-Ireland champions, Donegal played all three home games at Ballybofey in 2013 to accommodate more spectators, but Letterkenny and Ballyshannon were back in the program for the next seven years.
Home success in the league will generally be between 50 and 60 percent. Donegal has surpassed that from 2007 to date with a 66 percent return including a draw split. But Letterkenny was the burden of it for some reason.
Donegal have come into this game under a cloud since a poor performance against Monaghan 10 days ago but there was an improvement in last weekend’s Croke Park game against Dublin.
Sunday’s game against Armagh is more than just a dress rehearsal for their Ulster quarter-final game four weeks later in Ballybofey.
Armagh have had a productive league so far and the temptation to put everything into that league will be great, especially if Mayo misses out against Kildare.
Donegal has survival on their minds having already slipped out of the top flight twice in the past decade. But the ongoing malaise in the Letterkenny league is something they’re certainly looking to put behind them at this point as well.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/donegal-seek-to-banish-their-letterkenny-demons-41477284.html Donegal is trying to drive out their Letterkenny demons