Belfast Telegraph

After the warning signs Donegal's demise now makes perfect sense for everyone

By Declan Bogue

We can't say we didn't see the warning signs. Two years ago, in the middle of Donegal's first year under Jim McGuinness, Kevin Cassidy talked about the demands of what they were doing. It was miles beyond anything they had experienced before.

"Jim's warm-ups are unbelievable," he said.

"You feel like dying in the middle of them ... There is no slacking off, there is no way out. It's the hardest I have ever trained in my life."

That year they were beaten by Dublin, the team that were getting up before first light and had a gym or a running session completed before they would shower and begin their day's work. The message was clear; Gaelic football was evolving into a Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Last year, Donegal as they like to say themselves, 'got over the line.' But with success comes a whole load of responsibilities that are not easy to carry. Bringing the canister to every club in the county is only the start of it.

Human nature is human nature, and Donegal have never looked the same as they did last year, even in breaking Tyrone's spirit on that stormy night in Ballybofey back in May.

The team and the manager became the subject of soft-focus documentaries and there were so many added distractions with Jim McGuinness gaining employment with Celtic, the team training schedules occasionally having to be altered, the issue of accusations of one of their players being bit in the league game against Dublin, and other things that were kept from public view.

Even before they were All-Ireland champions, Jim McGuinness talked of Donegal just having to live up to their own goals, it didn't matter who they played. That extended then to the McKenna Cup, which they didn't participate in, and the National league, when they took the bizarre viewpoint that they 'didn't like.'

Only now, if they were quite prepared for relegation, it seems they didn't use the league in the right way.

For example, was there any need for Eamonn McGee, Leo McLoone, Rory Kavanagh, Ryan Bradley, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden to start every single game?

Just over a month ago, Patrick McBrearty winced at a room full of students in Jordanstown when he was asked how hard they trained and explained that every night before they went out, they would pledge to be the hardest-training outfit that night in Ireland.

Ger Loughnane used to taunt the hurlers of St Joseph's Doora-Barefield when they would come back to the county panel from their extended club seasons. He would tell them they were soft and urge them up the hill at Crusheen like the rest of them. But too much stick and no carrot can make a mule stubborn.

Donegal may have cocooned themselves with indifference to the league, but human nature is still human nature. Football is still football.

It's why we turn up at the games. Nobody knows what might happen. But at this vantage point, Donegal's demise all makes perfect sense now.

Belfast Telegraph

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