Donegal set to seize back titles
A players meeting held in Letterkenny by the Donegal panel last month has started the ball rolling on getting their focus back on regaining the Ulster and All-Ireland titles, says goalkeeper Paul Durcan.
In Croke Park to launch the 2014 Season Ticket, the 2012 All-Star goalkeeper revealed that the Donegal panel had a meeting exclusively of players to attempt to work through some of the issues surrounding their 4-17 to 1-10 defeat at the hands of Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final, following on from their Ulster final loss to Monaghan.
"There was a lot of stuff aired and we're looking forward to moving on again now and trying to get better," said the Four Masters clubman, who added that manager Jim McGuinness re-committing to the cause was also an encouraging sign for 2014.
Asked if the meeting contained much honesty, Durcan replied: "I've never been in a dishonest dressing room in the past three years. They're always honest and we have to be and every team does it. It's something we've made a point to do."
Recalling the events of the quarter-final hammering by Mayo, there is a sense that Donegal are still struggling to put their finger on what went wrong and Durcan admitted: "Thinking back now, the training was good and we felt good.
"To be honest, I felt confident going into the game; I thought things were right and what happened on the day was unforeseen from our point of view.
"In fairness to Mayo they were on top of their game and their finishing was excellent and their defence and midfield as well – all around the pitch. It was a hard pill to swallow but we have to move on from it."
That evening, the four goals from Mayo doubled the goals conceded tally by Durcan during the Jim McGuinness era.
A shaky performance in the Ulster semi-final against Down set some alarm bells ringing that Donegal might have been a tired team, a view enhanced by their defeat to Monaghan, but it isn't something Durcan is buying into.
"I suppose it's something you'd think about but honestly it felt okay in training. Everything felt good: the bodies were good, there were boys coming back from injuries and we thought things were getting back on track, but if I could pinpoint what it was I would. To be honest it was very hard to take on the day and I couldn't see it on the day even myself. Looking back it's still hard to see."
It has been a curious fall-out in the county ever since. Remarks made by assistant manager Rory Gallagher (pictured with, left, McGuinness) in the lead-up to the Mayo game got a cool brush off from McGuinness in the immediate aftermath of that defeat, and before long Gallagher had departed the management team to conflicting reports of the reason why.
Durcan said: "All the players have a lot of respect for Rory and it's hard to see him go.
"Rory'll be okay; he's very good at what he does – an intelligent man – and he'll be a big addition to Maxi (Curran) in the 21s set-up and hopefully that goes well for them."
Since then, John Duffy, Paul McGonigle and Damien Diver have been grafted onto the management squad and have met with the approval of the players, according to the custodian.
"The lads that Jim has in there now are very good and we have met up to go through what the season is going to be like – trying to get ourselves in shape ready for training and the lads have been very good to date so we're very happy with the way things are going," he said.
After Dublin took Sam this year with a much more expansive style of football than what has been successful in recent years, there is a suspicion that Donegal may need to change tack in 2014.
Durcan rejects the notion that teams have found Donegal out, but added: "Monaghan were very well set up in the Ulster final and they transitioned very well from defence to attack, something we weren't doing all year. That's something from 2012 that we have to get back to."
On the absence of Karl Lacey, he said: "When any team loses the Player of the Year from the previous year, it's going to affect them.
"He was a pivotal part of the defence at centre-back and he controlled it very well. He probably wasn't at full fitness this year so fingers crossed, because he has done well and he'll be back playing stronger again."
Lacey is continuing his recovery from ongoing hip problems and is expected to come into the reckoning for selection in the early stages of the National League.