McGuinnes bringing Donegal back in through the out door
Faced with a Derry team that hold onto the ball for longer than a Led Zeppelin back-catalogue, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness cut his cloth accordingly
Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan celebrates with his captain Michael Murphy after the final whistle at Celtic Park.
Everything we’ll watch between now and the first week of August in the football championship will be processed through the prism of Dublin - they’re the dominant force in the sport right now, and the road to the All-Ireland unquestionably goes through them. But in the immediate aftermath of Donegal’s win over Derry in Celtic Park on Sunday, that genuinely didn’t appear to be the case for Jim McGuinness, or his players.
They had been focused since the draw was made on Derry, and hadn’t looked a whole lot beyond it (in that strange way that GAA teams look ahead to one game, and one date in the calendar, for eight months, and then have a fortnight or three weeks to prepare for every other game).
McGuinness referred in numerous interviews after the game to Derry’s possession football and to the number of handpasses they use - an indication perhaps that what we saw from Donegal on Sunday may not be what we see from them in the coming months. This sort of tactical flexibility is common in rugby, and Davy Fitzgerald said last year that Clare had six game-plans, ready to use whenever the occasion demanded it . . . so we should infer that, next time around, we might see something quite different from his team.
Pragmatism is at the heart of good management, and McGuinness is the arch-pragmatist. Shorn of his first-choice midfield, up against a team who hold onto the ball for longer than most songs in the Led Zeppelin back-catalogue, he picked a way to play that offered his team the best chance at victory.
So, even if he can’t, we can afford to look at the bigger picture and ask what we learnt about Donegal and their chances of getting back to their 2012 levels of production from their performance in Derry City on Sunday.
Certainly a fit Karl Lacey transforms Donegal - he, Anthony Thompson, and Frank McGlynn are the lungs of this team. From a county known for its political contrarianism, Lacey is the archetypal bellwether state . . . if he is playing with energy and with tempo, Donegal will invariably go well. The number of times one or more of those three got ahead of the ball on Sunday would suggest they have got some of the energy back in their legs, something which wasn’t just absent last year, but was also absent in the Division Two League final against Monaghan last month.
We see plenty of half-back lines streaming forward these days - what sets Lacey and his cohorts apart is the comfort with which they operate inside the opposition 45. They can pick their moment to shoot, but they are also confident when trying the low-percentage pass, which is something you just don’t see from enough half-backs in that position. The pass from McGlynn to Leo McLoone, who despite wearing number six was playing in the half-forward line by then, had to be timed and delivered to perfection, and it was. He had options but he chose the killer one . . . that alone bodes well for Donegal.