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All-Ireland: Nothing is being left to chance by Jim McGuinness

BY Declan Bogue

Back in 2012, Donegal entered the Ulster Championship first round against Derry in Ballybofey.

There were slight fears for Donegal, most especially for Michael Murphy who seemed to be struggling for fitness.

In the end, Murphy led the team out from the tunnel at Pairc Sean MacCumhaill with the number 19 jersey on his back. All the other players wore black drill tops for the team photograph. It sent out a million subliminal signals that they were here in strength and so it proved as they wiped Derry off the field.

The scoreline finished 2-13 to 0-9, but it felt so much more than that.

After they turned their back and retreated out of the 2011 Championship in that semi-final loss to Dublin, they had returned as a team in utter command of the situation at all times. No surprise that they were coming off the back of a four-day training camp in Johnstown House.

"We had the players' undivided attention for the four days and we got a lot of good quality work in over the four days. It also gave us the opportunity to get the message across and lay out our plans for the Derry game," said Jim McGuinness in reflection.

That evening in Ballybofey, Donegal came armed with match-ups and kickout strategies. They talked their way through the game at a level seldom seen before in Gaelic games, and had a number of difference codes, referring constantly to an outfield player called 'Paul', although they have no outfield player by that name.

Donegal hardly invented the concept of a foreign training camp – the first side known for this was Offaly and their trip to Torremolinos in 1982 – but they go into this final as quite probably the best prepared side to ever enter and All-Ireland final.

This week, most of their players are nowhere to be found, certainly not at their places of work. The week before, they were encamped in the Lough Erne Golf Resort in neighbouring Fermanagh.

They were on St Michael's College playing fields on the Tuesday evening. After that, they used the nearby Brewster Park three times during their stay, including last Saturday. Eye-witnesses there spoke of a team who put in three hours work on a pitch, yet none of them were sweating as the session was purely a theory-based run-through.

Yet, they were back again on Sunday for another similar session.

With the tactics so meticulously covered, they also talk of the gruelling physical sessions they undergo such as their week spent pre-Championship in the Algarve.

"It's about being fit. If you're fit, your concentration levels will be high," said Odhran MacNiallais after he delivered a man-of-the-match performance against Antrim in the Ulster semi-final.

He added: "The work we have put in since the Derry game, you wouldn't believe.

"And when you're that fit your concentration levels are always going to be high.

"If you're not fit, you're going to be struggling and your head is gone."

Altogether, we know that Donegal have spent somewhere in the region of over 20 nights away 'in camp' this season. No other side in GAA history could match that.

Hard to believe that a Kerry team could head for an All-Ireland final in the knowledge that the opposition are better looked-after than them.

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