Jim McGuinness is moving in the right direction
Donegal boss is a man with a plan
Year two of the Donegal's reinvention and Jim McGuinness has promised the public that they will continue to do things their way.
Last year Donegal broke a 19-year trophy drought by landing the Ulster Championship, but the manner in which they achieved it and how they chose to set themselves up against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, irritated and infuriated many neutrals.
Such a one-eyed view, however, masks the facts that Donegal played some sparkling attacking football in spells.
“We had different plans for different opposition every day we went out really,” said McGuinness about how they approached the challenge of each game in their successful Championship season.
“In the first game we went with a long ball game and when Antrim negated that we were forced into a running game.
“The next day (against Cavan) it was a running game; it was similar against Tyrone and we had the long ball game against Derry again. We tried to mix it as much as we could and play to our strengths along the way.”
It is often overlooked just how effective the Donegal gameplan was in each game in the rush to condemn their craft as charmless, or ugly.
Against Cavan, they scored 2-14 by playing the running game, with Mark McHugh's goal to seal that win a classic example of defenders being drawn to the player in possession rather than holding positions.
Against Tyrone, their policy of going long enabled Michael Murphy to make a crucial catch in the closing stages, before passing to Dermot Molloy, who rifled home to put daylight between the sides.
It's all part of the incremental improvement of this side and they refuse to allow the media glare to detract from their focus, according to McGuinness.
“The same parameters that we worked off last year, we continue to work off now. We’re trying to improve the team and improve the squad, we’re trying to increase the squad so we can take hits like Michael Murphy not being available,” said McGuinness.
“We’ve never taken the opinion that we were under pressure in any game; we’re working off a set of criteria that we’re trying to achieve. We are our own biggest critics from that point of view.
“We know exactly what we’re working on and if we can achieve those things on Sunday week then we’ll be happy. If we can’t achieve them, we’ll go back on the training field to try and make them better.”
Achieving whatever performance goals they have set for themselves will be made that bit harder with the absence of Michael Murphy.
Donegal's main forward has struggled through the league with injury and it was no coincidence that on his return during the National League they gained their first win in the third game, against Cork.
Right now though, their focus is completely on Sunday, before they even imagine what it would be like to defend their Ulster title.
“We aren’t thinking about that, we’re working off our own criteria. That criteria is based on Cavan, nothing else,” said McGuinness.
“There is a job to be done and we know what the job is.
“We know what we’re working on and what direction we want to head in with the team. That’s ongoing and the Cavan game is our first day out so we can’t expect it to be perfect. We’re hoping that our attitude will be perfect to try to make it happen.”
Having seen the riches that they gained through doing things McGuinness' way in 2011, the Donegal players are firm in their conviction that the path they are pursuing is the righteous one.
There is a curious phenomenon that dictates the second year of any long-term project should be ‘difficult', but the Tir Chonnail boss is seeing it in a different light, when he says; “Last year we were trying to pull everybody together and trying to identify players.
“At that stage, you don’t really know players and you don’t know how they operate in different situations under stress. We have a good handle on that now.
“There are still a few lads who have come in and put their best foot forward in the League.
“Pulling the management team and facilities together and dealing with the clubs was all new to us last year. We have a handle on that and it’s much more about getting the football side of things right now.
“We know we’re not the finished article,” he continued, “but we’re working hard to head in that direction.
“They did make good strides last year. It would be so disappointing if we fell at the first hurdle.
“We’re trying to do everything in our power to get over it.”