Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

McGuinness and Harte still a league apart

Jim McGuinness puts the Championship first

The Allianz Football League may be the second most important competition in the annual inter-county fixtures calendar, but Donegal manager Jim McGuinness' curt dismissal of its relevance has carried a caustic edge in the build-up to Sunday's Ulster Championship quarter-final meeting with Tyrone.

To all intents and purposes, McGuinness grimly tolerated the league rather than suffusing it in the warm embrace offered by Red Hands boss Mickey Harte.

For the Donegal boss, the competition appeared to be nothing more than an irritant, a distraction from the main dish on his menu which for the past eight months has been the renewal of rivalry with the O'Neill county.

Even relegation to Division Two, far from enveloping the Donegal supremo in grief, merely served to harden his pre-Championship mantra.

"Relegation is not the end of the world. It doesn't make a difference to us because we don't really like the league anyway," said McGuinness as his side slid into the second tier.

His philosophy, if it could be called that, is in rather sharp contrast to Harte's assessment of his own team's progress in a league campaign that, for all McGuinness's ostensible indifference, has still offered viable evidence that this year's All-Ireland champions could come from Dublin, Mayo or Tyrone.

"I think we have been looking at the league through different lenses," says Harte diplomatically.

"People have to read their own situation as they find it. We went into the league wanting to play as competitively as we could and to as a high a level as we could.

"We were hoping some new players would come through and this happened for us. Niall Morgan is now a bonus which we did not have last year and Mattie Donnelly is fast developing into a quality performer so in that context the league was very useful for us."

McGuinness, who fielded a shadow team in the McKenna Cup, gradually re-introduced some of his more established players as the league unfolded, but the side never showed any great level of cohesion.

While he settled into his new-found commitments with Celtic, it was largely left to his assistant Rory Kavanagh to keep the Donegal ship afloat, but when the team subsequently became marooned on the relegation rocks, McGuinness reiterated his distaste of the league while at the same time emphasising that his players had already "pressed the button" for the Championship.

Now those same players who must make the most of the opportunity to do their talking on the field against Tyrone on Sunday.

Donegal lost to the Red Hands at Healy Park, Omagh in the league and if that match scarcely figured on McGuinness's radar, then Mickey Harte is putting absolutely no store by the fact that his side came out on top.

"It will be a different story altogether on Sunday," insists Harte, "This game has been Donegal's main focus for a considerable period and they will be very keen to deliver, but then too so are we."

The league is now history, but the formbook still carries considerable currency nonetheless.

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