Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

McGuinness faces a different test as he defends record

Watching brief: Donegal manager Jim McGuinness oversees training

In his inter-county Championship experience, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness had come up against 13 different managers.

There have been some repetition in that time – he has faced Mickey Harte three times – and emerged victorious on each occasion.

He beat John Brennan in his spell as Derry manager twice; in the 2011 Ulster final and the quarter-final the following season.

His side got the better of James McCartan's Down in the 2012 decider and the 2013 semi-final. James Horan is the only manager to have led a team to beat Donegal having had previous experience against them, when they partly avenged the 2012 All-Ireland final defeat with a thumping defeat in last year's quarter-final.

Other managers he has come up against include Val Andrews (Cavan), Terry Hyland (Cavan), Kieran McGeeney (Kildare), Pat Gilroy (Dublin), Jack O'Connor (Kerry), Conor Counihan (Cork), Brian McIver (Derry) and Malachy O'Rourke (Monaghan).

The only ones to have beaten him are Gilroy, O'Rourke and Horan, indisputably managers from the very top bracket.

There is one more he has faced, and it came in his very first Championship outing on a day of horrific downpours in Ballybofey; Liam Bradley.

Antrim had been due to play Donegal in Division Two of the National League that year – coincidentally a day that Brian 'Bam' Neeson made his debut in and netted a spectacular goal.

Normally, Antrim teams might have expected to travel to Ballybofey over the Glenshane Pass to such a fixture, but instead it was set for Ballyshannon, a traditional Donegal venue that seems to have gone out of vogue in the past couple of seasons.

It added on a couple of hours to the Antrim journey and frustrated Bradley, who labelled Donegal's style as "puke football" ahead of their Championship meeting later.

Nowadays within Bradley's management set-up, he has son Paddy as selector.

In all the management teams that McGuinness has faced, he has never come up against somebody who has first-hand experience of playing against his defensive system.

After Donegal routed Derry in 2012, Bradley gave an interview in which he said the levels of communication within the Donegal team were comparable to that when he played Irish League soccer for Cliftonville.

Gaelic football teams aren't as keen on inter-game communication and it displayed how much McGuinness had worked on his side's communication.

Given Bradley's experience, he will be well aware of what his forwards need to watch.

But it is noticeable too – the All-Ireland quarter-final and Ulster final of last year excepted – how McGuinness has almost always been able to pair up his defenders with the right attackers.

There is a chance that Antrim will use the tall and athletic Niall McKeever as full-forward, but when McGuinness was faced with a similar situation against Kerry in the 2012 quarter-final, he sent for Eamon McGee.

As Karl Lacey was detailed to mark Bradley in 2012, he will be sent to Kevin Niblock in an attempt to snuff out Antrim's playmakers and cut out the supply to Brian Neeson at source.

As for Neeson, the man who burned four different markers against Fermanagh will have Paddy McGrath for company.

McGrath is one of McGuinness' most trusted foot soldiers and he is a different proposition to anything that a feeble Fermanagh had to offer.

McGuinness has an 83.3% winning record in Championship football, currently standing at 15 wins from 18 games.

He is expected to push that figure up this weekend, but Antrim have other ideas.

Donegal (V Antrim, USFC): P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, P McGrath; F McGlynn, K Lacey, A Thompson; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; C Toye, L McLoone, R McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy (C), C McFadden

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