Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

McGuinness lets Donegal players do the talking

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness celebrates a score
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness celebrates a score

Donegal did not so much make a statement as issue a declaration of war by the clinical manner in which they buried Tyrone's Ulster Championship title ambitions on Sunday.

Pilloried because of his perceived cavalier approach to the Allianz League in which his side were relegated, derided when it was considered that his resources on the substitutes' bench were meagre and accused in some quarters of taking his eye off the domestic ball following his high-profile appointment with Celtic, manager Jim McGuinness clearly entered MacCumhaill Park nursing a substantial degree of hurt.

And on this occasion, the normally articulate, passionate and almost frighteningly-focused boss allowed his players to do the talking for him.

The usual post-match interviews took place, of course, but really no sophisticated analysis or detailed explanations were required.

Seeing is believing, and what the 17,500-strong crowd and thousands of riveted television viewers witnessed was irrefutable evidence that a hat-trick of Ulster titles and back-to-back All Ireland titles are well within the gambit of this reinvigorated outfit.

Suddenly, Dublin's role as favourites for 'Sam', Mayo's optimism that their long wait dating back to 1951 to get their hands on the big one and Kildare's raging hunger to go the extra mile have assumed a more realistic perspective.

In essence, Donegal's season started on Sunday. A team that paid lip-service to the Dr McKenna Cup and meandered rather aimlessly through the league – hence their relegation – has now arguably acquired an even greater hunger to prove themselves than was exhibited in McGuinness' debut season... and that's saying something.

He may have been castigated for his "We don't like the league anyway" remark, but funnily enough, I never heard the word 'league' mentioned in the maelstrom that was Ballybofey on Sunday.

And when it came to summoning aid from his bench, McGuinness did the next best thing to waving a magic wand.

Ross Wherity scored a dream goal with his first touch in Ulster Championship football, Martin McElhinney buttressed a midfield just when Tyrone launched their bid to salvage the contest and Karl Lacey exuded a quiet authority at the back as he gently helped to prod his side over the line.

Not many managers can replace their entire half-back line and still win a match easing up, but that's precisely what McGuinness did on Sunday.

And his appraisal of their input will send a shudder down the spine of every team who believes they still have viable championship ambitions.

"I wanted big decision-makers out on the park to see us through the closing phase of the game," stated McGuinness. This from a boss who was alleged to have little or nothing on the bench.

Not only did those who were ushered into action during the course of the game leave an indelible impression, but if David and Declan Walsh were surprised by their eleventh-hour slots in the starting team when McGuinness held Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey in reserve, they promptly brought their own level of intensity to the proceedings, thus further underpinning their manger's resources.

Far from being distracted from his Donegal commitments by his responsibilities with Celtic, McGuinness underlined just how much homework he had undertaken on Tyrone and the extent of the detailed planning he had undertaken to bring about the sweetest of victories over the team regarded as forming the biggest barrier to a triple Ulster title coup.

Modesty perhaps dictated that the Donegal boss would confine himself to admitting that his team had "only won an Ulster quarter-final" on Sunday with the addendum that Derry or Down would be "difficult opponents" in the semi-final.

But there is no doubt this majestic victory made a compelling case for yet another prodigious Donegal feat in September.

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