Jim McGuinness concerned about effect of the black card
Donegal boss says new rule has created a fear factor among defenders
Since completing one of the great team reinventions in the history of Gaelic games, Donegal have been a subject of on-going fascination. That continues ahead of their opening Ulster match against Derry, as they secured promotion from Division Two without really signalling if they are on the verge of recapturing the high-octane, counter-attacking perfection which saw them sweep Ulster and Ireland in 2012.
Defending the All-Ireland title in 2013 proved a grim experience for McGuinness and Donegal: a league season characterised by injuries caught up with them in a heavy Ulster final defeat to Monaghan before everything unravelled against Mayo in the quarter final.
“You’re presuming there!” McGuinness laughed when asked how Donegal had recovered from that loss.
“We are probably still not over it in some respects. Losing a championship game and getting demoralised in a quarter-final is a different ball game . . .
“We were in a difficult enough situations with the injuries we had and the other dynamics just pushed us over the line. So as All-Ireland champions, winning it for the second time ever and after a 20-year break, that was difficult to square away in my head.
“It was like sand going through your fingers,” McGuinness says of managing the team through last summer.
Dublin recaptured the Sam Maguire and are heavy favourites to keep it after this summer. McGuinness reckons that winning it all twice is a difficult task but feels Dublin may have some advantages that simply couldn’t apply to Donegal.
“I don’t think it’s as difficult. One of the big problems for us is geography. If I could project three weeks into the future and we had won the Derry match, we would be in a good position because we would have everyone home from college. We have players coming from Belfast, Dublin, Galway and Limerick. They are arriving fatigued, we train at eight, it is ten before they eat and then they get into a car and are getting home at one or two in the morning.
“So Dublin don’t have that problem. We have to fork out €1.75 million on a centre of excellence and Dublin get one handed to them, which is handy. And which is worth £20 million . . . And they have a huge pool of players. . We don’t have the same resources.”
Unlike last year’s litany of walking wounded, they are approaching this year’s Ulster campaign with a relatively healthy squad. Neil Gallagher turned his ankle in a training game on Friday night so it could be that Donegal will have to plan without the big Glenswilly man and the suspended Rory Kavanagh when they pick a midfield.
In the weeks since Donegal’s flat performance in the league final, the sense of momentum on the training field has been easy to discern. It has come full circle: Donegal going into an Ulster championship with muted national expectations.
“The first year involved was the same dynamic. There wasn’t a lot of confidence around the team. They had been beaten by Armagh, expectation was relatively low and we hadn’t won an Ulster championship in four years. . .I don’t know about pressure but when things are tough and people are saying nasty things rather than nice things . . . . , people come together. And I think that is probably where we are at.”