Donegal boss Jim takes a leaf out of Roy Keane’s book
Former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland skipper Roy Keane was imbued with many attributes that garnished his glittering career at the top.
However, as far as Donegal boss Jim McGuinness is concerned one particular quality stood out — Keane’s inherent honesty.
When the Cork icon spoke, McGuinness, a self-confessed lover of most sports, listened.
And what he learned, he stored in his memory bank.
It was Keane’s typically succinct assessment of how players should approach a major game which made such a profound impression on McGuinness that this is now being deployed as part of his mantra for Sunday’s crucial All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.
“Roy Keane never minced his words, we all know that,” says McGuinness.
“But he famously remarked that if players go out and do the right things, be honest with themselves and work for the common good of the team, then even in defeat they can have a clear conscience.
“That’s something I am very happy to buy into.
“If your conscience is clear everybody is happy and you just move on.”
McGuinness may have masterminded a Donegal revival that is one of the most compelling success stories in Irish sport this year — bettered of course by Darren Clarke’s triumph in the Open — but he nonetheless has painful memories of black days in the Donegal jersey which he himself worshiped as a player.
He recalls the utter dejection he experienced as a whole-hearted midfielder when he finished up on the losing Donegal side against Dublin after the replay of the All-Ireland quarter-final nine years ago.
“When we played Dublin in those two games in 2002 we were not honest with ourselves,” admits McGuinness.
“We did not train hard enough and we did not show enough commitment.
“We did not give it everything and we certainly weren’t switched on tactically.”
McGuinness, though, quietly absorbed the sharp lessons learned that year — lessons that he has brought to the table in Donegal’s intensive preparations for Sunday’s sell-out clash with the Dubliners.
“This group of players are doing all the right things and they are being honest,” insists McGuinness.
“You can take it from me that they will leave everything on the Croke Park pitch on Sunday.”
Nothing has been left to chance in the build-up to this highly-anticipated encounter.
Indeed, Donegal’s attention to even the most minute details in their preparations would certainly curry favour from Roy Keane himself.
“There is nothing more frustrating than coming out of a game knowing that you could have prepared a lot better and played a lot better. That’s a bad feeling,” adds McGuinness.
“We aim to do our very best on Sunday. I’m not thinking of the All-Ireland final.
“I am only thinking of Dublin and the big threat that they pose to us.”
The main thrust of that threat will come from the Brogan brothers, Alan and Bernard, in tandem with Diarmuid Connolly in the Dublin attack while the Leinster champions also look capable of establishing a strong foothold at midfield.
McGuinness, however, has faith in his own players, conscious that Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden, in particular, can harvest scores should they receive quality ball from the middle third of the park.
“I have great respect for my players because they have been so disciplined in their approach this year,” says McGuinness.
“It’s great for them to be now going into an important All-Ireland semi-final knowing that they are in top physical and mental condition.”
Three ways for Donegal to beat Dublin
1. Donegal are unlikely to win the midfield battle and this being the case the ability of their half-forwards and half-backs in particular to win a liberal supply of breaking ball could prove crucial. Should they achieve this then Michael Murphy and Com McFadden can be supplied with the ammunition to shoot down the Dubs.
2. The claustrophobic defensive mechanism which Donegal have deployed to date has served them well and with Jim McGuinness unlikely to deviate from this, there will now be much greater pressure on players to take points from distance in breakaway raids with Ryan Bradley, Mark McHugh and Kevin Cassidy perhaps having big roles here.
3. Given that Dublin have yet to encounter a side which espouses a similar strategy to that of Donegal they could conceivably experience frustration in attempting to impose themselves on the game. This could lead to indiscipline and the Ulster champions may well benefit from a show of patience and total concentration.