After a gruelling 2013 Karl Lacey looks forward
Donegal star reflects on the mistakes and misfortune of last year’s All-Ireland defence
Donegal’s Karl Lacey looks dejected after his side’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Mayo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If 2012 will always be remembered in Donegal, last year will definitely go down as one to forget. The All-Ireland champions, hampered by chronic injury and a shallow panel, lost their place in Division One, their Ulster title and within weeks the Sam Maguire.
One of the biggest blows for the team was the unavailability for much of the season of their centre back and 2012 Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey, whose hip and knee problems restricted him largely to cameo roles.
Speaking yesterday at the launch of Setanta Sports live coverage of the upcoming national leagues, Lacey gave his thoughts on what had gone wrong for the county in 2013, as restored to fitness he looks forward to a better season.
“There are a lot of issues that go with winning an All Ireland. These things have to be done as well. I suppose it was new to all of us. We thought – Jim [McGuinness, manager] thought, if we came back in January we would have enough time. Looking back on it now we didn’t. If we were to win it again I’m sure you wouldn’t take as much time and you wouldn’t let the preparations be affected.”
A stuttering league campaign saw them relegated from the top division with virtually the last kick of the match, an equalising point from Dublin’s Paul Mannion. Their championship defence, despite the injury concerns, looked to be back on track after a comfortable win over league finalists Tyrone.
Lacey however remembers that within 10 minutes of the start of their Ulster final against Monaghan, alarm bells were beginning to sound.
Speed or sharpness
“Every man was trying their best and we just didn’t have it in the legs, didn’t have the endurance and didn’t have the speed or sharpness. You’re looking over at the sideline and asking Jim, ‘what the hell’s going on here?’ Jim didn’t have the answers, that’s just the way it was.
“I suppose our hunger was questioned after it and that was a wee bit frustrating to hear that. The hunger was definitely there. We wanted it; we were going for three in a row, something that was never done in Donegal and would have been legendary status if we’d got it. To lose that then was disappointing but we played Laois six days later and tried to pick it up again. We got the result, got back to Croke Park and were just blown away by Mayo. ”
That All-Ireland quarter-final ended in the biggest defeat for defending champions in decades. Still short of fitness, Lacey was called into action.
“We were well beaten, it was by six or seven points by the time I was asked to warm up. I suppose it doesn’t matter at that stage if you’re Superman or whoever you are. I don’t think it was going to make any difference who came on.
“It was just about getting on and doing the best we could, really. Half-time, I remember Jim was saying ‘we’re still in this, we still can win this. He still had the belief that we could go out and put in a big second half. You could just see in guys’ eyes in the dressing-room: ‘how the hell are we going to get this back?’
“That was a bit disappointing. The fight had nearly gone out of us at that stage and Jim was trying to push us on a wee bit and under my three years under Jim I had never seen that happen before. That was the way it went.”
He is grateful that McGuinness decided to stay on for another year although a bit baffled by changes to the backroom team, including the departure of highly rated coach Rory Gallagher.
“Vital,” he replied when asked about the importance of McGuinness. “He’s a massive part of what Donegal have achieved over the last three years. Just to have him back, he wants to prove a point as well. There are question marks over his head too.
“He wants to prove a point that this Donegal team – there is more in us. There’s an Ulster championship in us. He is highly respected by every single player. Unfortunately Rory is out of the backroom team. That was our of our control but that’s the way you go.
“It’s was unexpected really. We didn’t know as players what was going on until it was actually announced. It was quite a shock but you have to respect the manager’s decision and if he thought that was the best way – I think the two of them agreed – to go forward for the team then we have got to believe in that. That’s the way it is than two months down the line before championship starts.”