Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

All-Ireland: Brian McEniff helps Donegal to shine

Brian McEniff secured his place in the annals of Donegal GAA folklore when he steered the county to All-Ireland title glory in 1992.

Now he is hoping that he will be joined there by Jim McGuinness, the man who has masterminded Donegal's stunning rise from the ashes this year.

Tomorrow McGuinness faces the biggest test of his tactical and motivational skills this year when his team confront Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

And seated high up in the Hogan Stand McEniff, one of Ireland's best-known hoteliers, will have an overview of the team's bid to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious '92 predecessors.

He has a special personal reason why he believes that McGuinness can bring Donegal into an All-Ireland final meeting with Kerry next month.

"I brought Jim into the 1992 squad as a Minor because I thought he was a very talented player," explains McEniff.

"Many years later one of my last actions before stepping down as a member of the County Executive was to formally appoint Jim as manager of the county Under 21 team.

"His managerial career took off from there and now he is edging closer to the ultimate glory."

It was after taking Donegal to the All-Ireland Under 21 final last year that McGuinness was appointed manager of the senior squad at the start of this year in succession to John Joe Cunningham.

And McEniff was again among his most enthusiastic backers.

His faith in McGuinness was well-placed - today the former midfield ace has attained demi-god status in Donegal.

"I am not terribly surprised," muses McEniff.

"Jim is not only a very good coach. He can relate to people very well and has fierce pride in Donegal.

"He has shown himself to be well-qualified for the role into which he was thrust and I imagine that a lot of people who were sceptical at first are now right behind him."

McGuinness's fastidious approach to every element of the build-up to tomorrow's game has made a big impression on McEniff.

"Nothing is too much trouble for him and he leaves nothing to chance.

"He is the ultimate 24/7 manager and anyway there is no comparison between the preparations for major games nowadays and what pertained in 1992," insists McEniff.

McGuinness has kept faith with many of the old hands - players such as Kevin Cassidy, Michael Hegarty, Karl Lacey, Rory Kavanagh, Paul Durcan, and Colm McFadden.

They all soldiered under McEniff when he served his second term as manager from 2003-2005 while at the same time holding down the demanding post of county chairman.

But of course at that time the Donegal manager's job had already become a poisoned chalice, hence McEniff's somewhat reluctant decision to return to a role that no one else wanted.

Rather than dwell on the darker days, however, McEniff is brimming with optimism as tomorrow's tie approaches.

"The old hands have stepped up very smartly to the mark this year and fair play to them," says McEniff.

"They have been joined in the squad by young guns like Mark McHugh, Patrick McBrearty, Dermot Molloy and Paddy McGrath and the team now has a nice balance."

Dublin's Leinster title triumph, their sixth in the last seven years, has now been complemented by that magnificent quarter-final performance against Tyrone which will send them into tomorrow's game in buoyant mood, particularly as they will have the backing of some 50,000 of their own followers.

But McEniff has implicit faith in McGuinness and his reborn side.

"They will do us proud, of that I am sure," he states with considerable conviction.