Belfast Telegraph

Where now for beaten Donegal?

By Declan Bogue

Harsh as it might be to write it, or even read it, but the party is over for Donegal.

Unless ...

Unless Jim McGuinness remains as manager. That is the first, last and main priority throughout the next two months.

Last year, it was a priority for the board to keep him. Although he himself admitted that it came as a surprise for him to learn that Michael Murphy and Neil McGee turned their car around while heading to International Rules training in order to get back to Donegal to convince him to stay, it took a lot of convincing him to stay.

In recent weeks he revealed what he asked of the players. He would not put himself forward for another year when they might be beaten by 16 points in Croke Park.

His main question was, as he revealed: "It's about, 'Do you want to be remembered and how do you want to be remembered?' or, 'do you want to be remembered for being beaten by 16 points in a quarter-final?'

"That was the question that had to be answered and then it was about what was involved in that and, 'are we prepared to do that?' I wanted that out in the open. I didn't want anybody going into anything blind. I wanted to gauge the room. If I felt that it wasn't genuinely in the room then I probably wouldn't have gone on."

Not for nothing, did he reference the trait of honesty above all others in the aftermath of the win over Dublin. It's just a guess, but we imagine that the prominent 'H' displayed on the wristbands of players and management this year stood for 'honesty.'

They gave it everything this year. In our preview of the game on Saturday we ventured that they were the most professionally prepared outfit ever to emerge in the GAA.

Hindsight throws up an odd conundrum though. They were devoid of the spark and cohesion that characterises their play. They looked a bit jaded. We now wonder if all those evenings spent cooped up in hotel lobbies with a team tracksuit on – so effective in engendering the type of preparation required to beat Dublin – then became too much of a good thing in the lead-in to the final.

Whatever. It's all academic now anyway. McGuinness has said he will reflect on the performance.

On his own future, he answered: "I will take my time now and think about this. I did that last year and I did it the year before. I'll think about my own position, I'll think about the players and about the squad we have."

It differed significantly from his answer to the same question last year when he commented: "After 2011 we looked at the season. We will look at this season, we will identify all the things that we talk about; injuries, hunger for the game, ourselves – what we could have done better, what we could have done right in terms of the whole season.

"Once that process is done, we will know more about our decision. Any decision that will be made, any player, anything will be made on our appraisal. That's the way we have always done it."

The main difference was how he tore the backroom team down. We could have guessed at that after he was asked about assistant manager Rory Gallagher's comments prior to the Mayo defeat and responded: "Well, you need to get Rory to answer that question. I can only answer it from my own point of view."

With Donegal, McGuinness has referenced it in terms of a four-year cycle. It may take some convincing to go back for another year.

If he does decide to do so, he might have to go into battle without some veterans. Rory Kavanagh, Frank McGlynn, Karl Lacey and Colm McFadden are all fathers now, whereas they weren't when they started down this road in late 2010.

This was meant to be their crowning glory, but McGuinness crystallised their feelings after the final when he said: "It has been a great year, a phenomenal year and they have given it everything. In my own head I am so disappointed for them because I feel they deserved more.

"They have given everything and been very consistent all year. We just didn't get that spark that is required to win an All-Ireland."

With a rejuvenated Dublin, Kerry with Colm Cooper and Tommy Walsh back and a hurting Mayo, this group may not get that defining second Sam.

Doesn't make them not great.

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