Lacey hoping to be central to Donegal’s plans for big Tyrone clash
Footballer of the Year has battled back from a serious hip injury to be in the frame for Sunday’s showdown
Donegal’s Karl Lacey celebrates Donegal’s victory over Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland final. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
He may be their Footballer of the Year but Karl Lacey won’t know until after this evening’s final training session whether or not he’s finally fit enough to start for Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster football quarter-final against Tyrone – and the ultimate decision will rest will manager Jim McGuinness.
Walking into Croke Park Box 635, dropping his rucksack on the floor, “K Lacey – All-Ireland Final 2012”, hair neatly trimmed, Lacey certainly has that chiselled look of a primed sportsman.
Lacey hasn’t played any competitive intercounty football since Donegal’s All-Ireland triumph last September, nursing instead a hip injury that eventually required surgery, so there remains some lingering doubt about being primed for Sunday’s simmering showdown against Tyrone.
“Well, I’ve been back training with the lads the last four or five weeks,” he starts. “It’s building, it’s getting there. I’ve played three games now (two challenges, one with his club), and the hip is feeling good, and I’m getting into a bit of shape as well. The match fitness is getting there.
“But it’s probably taken a little longer than expected. I’d two setbacks there, through it, for a couple of months, with a calf injury. That held me back a wee bit. I probably wouldn’t be where I am last year. But I’m happy with where I’m at, have plenty of cardio sessions under my belt . . . I was hoping to have a few league games under my belt, before playing Tyrone.”
Lacey suggests the decision on his fitness ultimately rests with manager Jim McGuinness, and his assistant Rory Gallagher. Donegal will train for the final time this evening, after which Lacey expects McGuinness to have a quiet word in his ear: “I’ll give it everything, and hopefully that will have me available for selection on Sunday. But it’s down to Jim, and Rory, whether I’m sharp enough – to play the full game, half a game, 10 minutes. It will be their shout.”
Lacey never lost hope of playing some role on Sunday. Had it been any other team besides Tyrone he’s mightn’t have been pressed so hard, but if Donegal are to retain their All-Ireland title this year then Sunday’s showdown may prove a huge step.
Lacey did play the full 70 minutes of a challenge game against Roscommon last Wednesday, while the team spent several days “bonding” at Johnstown House in Meath.
As centre back and perhaps ultimate playmaker (best demonstrated with that sweet pass for Michael Murphy’s thunderous goal in the opening minutes of last year’s final) it’s likely McGuinness will give him every chance to start, although Lacey still has an air of caution.
“The whole rehab thing was new to me, frustrating as well . . . You’ve just got to be patient, believe you will overcome it. And thankfully I’ve been back on the pitch these past few weeks, and it will be even better to be back out on the pitch with them on Sunday.”
Lacey is not sure of the source of the injury but six games in 22 days with his club Four Masters after last year’s All-Ireland triumph “definitely didn’t help”.
At 28, with four All Stars already to his name, Lacey might well have eased himself back but all that changed when Tyrone’s name came out of the drum last October.
“It’s going to be a sell-out crowd, playing against Tyrone – one of the best teams in the country. So at the moment my head is around getting involved for this game and helping the guys hopefully get over the line on Sunday. Tyrone, overall, do look in better shape – stronger, fitter, faster. They are definitely the in-form team, up there with Dublin, have good momentum behind them, and it is up to us now on Sunday to stop that.”