Joe Kernan: Jim McGuinness must find another level
Donegal boss Jim McGuinness has already shown himself to be a first-class manager — fiercely driven, single-minded, resolute and utterly dedicated.
And having brought his team to their ultimate goal in winning last year’s All-Ireland title he now finds himself confronted by a fresh challenge — managing success.
Down through the decades, a number of club and county teams have reached a glorious peak only to topple down the other side consumed by the pressure and burdens that success brings.
McGuinness, despite his commitments with Celtic and the demands of a young family, clearly has no intention of allowing Donegal to fall victims of their feats to date under his baton.
That initial meeting he held with his players in the sleepy resort of Downings immediately after his appointment has since been well documented — how an apprehensive, under-achieving, morale-shattered outfit were suddenly transformed into a vibrant, optimistic and purposeful squad that went on to win two Ulster titles and ‘Sam’ within the period spanning May 2011 to September 2012.
It was McGuinness’ compelling rhetoric, motivational expertise and passionate appeal for a greater show of pride that transformed Donegal from no-hopers to all-conquering heroes.
But as the 2013 season begins McGuinness knows that a bigger test awaits him.
Building on the success which his side has achieved will not be easy. McGuinness, though, has already rolled up his sleeves in preparation for what he views as an even more ambitious crusade.
His shadow team may be merely going through the motions in the Dr McKenna Cup, but I suspect when the Allianz League springs into action next month a more familiar Donegal side will be on show.
McGuinness and his assistant Rory Gallagher, along with Maxie Curran, who has had more of a front stage role during the McKenna Cup, will seek to take their squad to the next level in terms of an attacking strategy.
When they won the Ulster title and reached the closing stages of the All-Ireland series in 2011, Donegal were portrayed as a grim, relentless, colourless side which elevated winning ugly into an art form.
It was different last year. The north-west outfit played with a smile on their face, largely spurning the defensive shroud in which they had been enveloped in 2011 in favour of a much more expansive attacking policy that ultimate paid the biggest dividend of all.
McGuinness has indicated that he is hoping the McKenna Cup will provide him with players who will be capable of stepping up to the mark in the league and championship.
I have no doubt that he will attain this objective and with a little tweaking, his team can become even stronger.
I don’t believe that Donegal appetites have been fully sated by recent triumphs. Rather, I feel that the management and players clearly believe there is more left in the tank.
But to get the best from his side McGuinness will be forced to amend his strategy simply because other teams will feel that they can now come up with tactics of their own which could perhaps see a spanner lobbed into the normally well-oiled Donegal machinery.
It is no secret that Dublin were devastated by the manner in which they lost to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final last year while Cork under-performed in going out at the same stage to Donegal albeit by two points (0-16 to 1-11).
It can now be assumed that other teams such as Kildare, Kerry and, whisper it, Tyrone will see themselves as credible candidates to get their hands on ‘Sam’ come September.
For this reason, McGuinness will need to dig deeper into his text-books and come up with an enhanced formula that will continue to make his side extremely difficult to defeat.
Nothing succeeds like success and that’s why you won’t hear the slightest whisper of the word retirement from within this Donegal squad even though quite a number of the players had been beavering away for the best part of a decade without success.
There is a huge amount of work to be done if Donegal are to replicate their achievements of last year, but I have no doubt that they can continue to dine at the top table.
The feelgood factor and air of buoyancy triggered by last year’s success still pertain but now McGuinness and his management team are tasked with fulfiling perhaps the most daunting brief of all.
And that is to provide proof that Donegal are in essence a great team as opposed to being merely a good one.