Jim McGuinness still keeping his cards close to his chest

Donegal supremo and his squad have been working on system to counteract Dublin’s strengths

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness: “We’ll need to be on our toes from the first minute against Dublin. We’ll need to implement our own game plan from the very first minute.”

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness: “We’ll need to be on our toes from the first minute against Dublin. We’ll need to implement our own game plan from the very first minute.”

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:00

Maybe 2011 still matters. Jim McGuinness seems to be employing the same philosophy; the attempted shaping of a sport that leaves itself open to manipulation.

McGuinness’s Donegal came very close to killing the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final stone dead. The Ulster champions clawed themselves into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead before clamping down their jaws and refusing to budge.

It made the 2003 All-Ireland final between Armagh and Tyrone seem adventurous.

Everything was going according to the stingiest game plan Croke Park has witnessed in modern times. That is until Stephen Cluxton, Bryan Cullen and Bernard Brogan intervened as Dublin eventually escaped the attempted suffocation with an eight-point total. Just 0-2 came from open play.

This near deconstruction of Gaelic football was heavily criticised but a year later Donegal bloomed, ending a 20-year wait for Sam Maguire, and McGuinness was lauded a master tactician and sports psychologist extraordinaire. Glasgow Celtic came calling for his services.

The aesthetics

“In 2011 people talked about the aesthetics and so on but we were trying to win a football match, that’s the bottom line,” said McGuinness. “When that is your start point everything else goes out the window.”

Dublin centre forward Barry Cahill remembers the throw-in like no other.

“One way to combat a blanket defence is to move the ball as quickly as possible, usually by foot, 40 to 50 yard kick passes up the pitch,” said Cahill.

“When Maurice Deegan threw up the ball Mark McHugh and Ryan Bradley [both since gone from the scene for different reasons], their two wing forwards, sprinted past me and just sat in front of our full forward line.

“Two, three seconds into the game, they had two players situated in front of Bernard Brogan in the pocket, in the space, so our plan was gone straight away because their defensive system was set up.”

Something similar is expected on Sunday. Donegal are highly unlikely to trade blows with Jim Gavin’s Dublin. Their best chance of progressing seems to be an advanced version of rope-a-dope. Make Dublin shoot themselves into exhaustion.

“The one thing that Dublin have added is the number of shots they are getting off 45, 46, 47 consistently,” said McGuinness. “They are relentless in terms of their approach and they ask a wild lot of questions. We know that they are very fit, strong, well organised and they have got their system well down the track in terms of their development.

Much improvement

“I don’t see much more improvement in their system or movement in their system from here on in. They are probably 85 or 90 per cent where they want to be because it is so fluid you can see the patterns and you can see what they are doing and their support play.

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