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Kerry offer a bigger threat than Dublin, to be Frank

By Declan Bogue

Last Saturday, Frank McGlynn sat for hours at a desk, signing Donegal jerseys and autograph books, chatting with parents just as star-struck as their offspring.

Then he went inside to the Sean MacCumhaill clubrooms in Ballybofey and fulfilled media duties ahead of the All-Ireland final. Within days he would be in a five-night training camp in the Lough Erne Golf Resort.

It's a life of a professional athlete, but in the middle of that run, he had some payback. His wife Diane was playing for their club Glenfin in the Donegal ladies' final and he had to look after their children Harry and Gracie as they cheered mummy from the sidelines.

Perhaps it's because McGlynn is a married man with children, but at the end of every season he is asked the question, 'Retirement, Frank?'

Hard to believe the man is only 28.

Yet in many ways he is a throwback. One of the softest-spoken men you could ever sit across from, his answers to the Q & A feature in this year's Ulster final programme reveal a lot.

He lists his hobbies as darts and cards. His pre-match meal is soup and spuds. If he could have anything in the world to eat, it would be turkey and ham. To accompany it? Club Shandy. His childhood hero was a Donegal hero cut from similar cloth – Martin 'Rambo' Gavigan.

When asked what is the most important skill of a footballer, he answers, 'balance'.

Interesting because he is a remarkably-balanced footballer. Low centre of gravity, an economical solo and a great kick-passer.

You sense he could have succeeded in any sport and in his youth he played brilliant soccer for Drumkeen United. Brilliant enough to earn trials with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, Preston North End. And play and score alongside Wayne Rooney for Everton in the Milk Cup.

Rooney went one way, and Frank went another to become a teacher at Stramore National School, Glendowan, Churchill, Glenswilly. To most people, it's the outskirts of Letterkenny, but Donegal don't give up their townlands and parish names easily.

He knows and appreciates his blessings. Earlier this year against Armagh in the McKenna Cup, he made his 100th appearance for the county. But it couldn't be done without the efforts of a few.

"I am very lucky to have a supportive wife, she plays football herself and loves going to watch Donegal play," says McGlynn in that sincere way of his.

"So many would give their right arm to play for the county so as long as I am able to, I might as well."

This week he hasn't lifted a stick of chalk or a duster. People need to be recognised for that too.

"My principal is Therese McMonagle, she gives full backing and it's very important to the community and the school community as well."

It's the humility of McGlynn that endears him so much to his public. Even after scoring his one and only goal for Donegal – which sealed the 2012 Ulster final against Down – there was no fist-pumping or whooping. He just trotted back into position, a cog in the machine, but one that could be melted down for gold.

There were no big declarations after beating the hottest of hot favourites in the All-Ireland semi-final either.

"After the game," he recalls, "we were big enough to realise that those games happen to everybody no matter who you are, you are always there to be defeated as champions and it happened to us in 2013.

"It's not a nice feeling to have when your Championship comes to an end. So we were aware of that, but also aware that it was only an All-Ireland semi-final and you don't get Sam Maguire handed out on semi-final day."

McGlynn credits Christy Toye's introduction from the bench as the turning point.

"For that 20-minute period at the start we struggled while Dublin had some long-range scores that they wouldn't have gone over on another day."

In the first 18 minutes, he was marking Paul Flynn, who had already racked up three points from play. Yet he did not panic.

He explains: "When we went out we had the plan to get our shape and get our shape right to stop their runners coming through. We didn't think they would hit long-range points and we thought we were good enough in applying pressure.

"But when you look at those 20 minutes now, even our forward play, we weren't functioning to our full potential until we got that levelling up.

"We started putting more pressure on out around the 45 metre line which stopped the long-range points and it seemed to work then."

Between themselves and the direction they got from the sideline, along with Toye's physical gifts, they got through some pretty smart trouble-shooting.

The final will be no different. Donegal are locked in an intellectual and physical contest. Once upon a time Jim McGuinness said he feared Kerry more than most as they have the ability to change things on the pitch without awaiting direction from the line.

Having held out against the last 10 minutes onslaught of the 2012 quarter-final, McGlynn is wary.

"We were under pressure from our own kickout and we struggled to get our own ball out of defence.

"With Donaghy at the edge of the square they always had a threat no matter where they were on the pitch. One foot pass and the ball could end up in the back of your net."

He concludes, sounding a note of caution before Donegal depart and go underground: "They are a team that can change. If you look at Dublin, you might say they were one dimensional where they kept trying to run the ball, whereas Kerry are going to offer more, they are going to keep the ball at all costs because they are a footballing team and they know how vital the ball is."

Vital and precious. Just like the prize at stake.

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