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McIver determined to give Donegal an intense grilling

By Declan Bogue

The interview with Brian McIver in the Oakleaf Restaurant on the Glenshane Pass was coming to a close. In the midst of time and folklore, this is Shane Crossagh O'Mullan territory, where travellers negotiating the mountains were apprehended and relieved of their belongings. In that spirit, it was tempting to chance the arm and stretch the usual parameters of questioning.

Is there any chance that Eoin Bradley might play out the field, rather than have his pocket picked by the McGee brothers inside, Brian?

"We will let you know how we're going to line out at 7 o'clock on Saturday," he laughed back.

Many in his position would lose their sense of humour, saddled with his responsibilities.

The week after his Derry side's demolition of Armagh in the Athletic Grounds, McIver agrees this is his hardest task in management.

"There was hardly any chink in their armour at all," he began. "You have to take into account that they got the perfect start, and significantly started very well against Tyrone who needed a good goal to get themselves back into it, but Armagh couldn't get a break to get going. The more it went on, the more assured Donegal became."

The retired schoolteacher shares the countrywide awe for Michael Murphy, but he knows better than most.

As Donegal manager, he brought this generation of players to a National title long before Jimmy was winning matches, when they captured the National League in 2007.

This week, Eamonn McGee revealed in this newspaper that he would probably be attending this Ulster semi-final later tonight as a paying punter rather than as a player, only for McIver's faith and perseverance in him.

And of course, he handed Murphy his county debut at 17.

Having watched Murphy destroy Armagh, it soon became apparent that he had to make plans for their captain.

"Well, you're not going to talk about how to beat Donegal and not talk about how you're going to try and play against Murphy," he stated.

"Donegal have the confidence that they don't have to stick with the one system. They knew they didn't need to play him in there (full-forward), he could play centre half back and control the game.

"A few years ago people used to say 'Michael Murphy is the best full-forward in Ireland, why not just play him there?' That could well happen against us, they have the ability to switch things.

"It is Donegal's prerogative where they want to play him and it's our challenge to take that into consideration."

McIver is strong on detail. When he arrives two hours early for training most nights in Owenbeg, he inevitably carries folders of statistics and analysis on upcoming opponents.

This is what people do not see; McIver has an absolute pathological hatred of losing. He is a winner, having guided Ballinderry to an All-Ireland club title and Donegal to their first ever National League.

The nights before a game he will sleep soundly, content he has his homework done, but the night after a game he will walk the floors, full of adrenaline until dawn peeks through the gloom.

He is passionate on the sideline. That has drawn criticism from Joe Brolly, who maintains it is a manifestation of panic, as if every single manager should be a replica of arms-crossed Zen. A few weeks ago, Kieran McGeeney hardly flinched on the sideline, but his side were beaten by this Donegal team.

During a discussion about Murphy's ability in kicking frees over from practically the next parish away, McIver said with a sigh: "Last year Chrissy (McKaigue) was doing a good job on him in Celtic Park and then he steps up and hits a sideline ball from 60, 70 yards, straight as a die over the bar and you're thinking 'yep'."

Derry gave away rather too many frees in their previous game against Down and let their opponents back into it when they were 0-8 to 0-5 up at half-time.

"I thought we took serious criticism, and rightly so, for the last 25 minutes against Down," said McIver.

"But I thought in the first half we played really well. We created a number of chances that we didn't take so the only thing that would have annoyed us from the first half was that we weren't further ahead.

"In the second half, and we have looked at it umpteen times in the last few weeks, we definitely went into our shell and retreated."

He maintains that such caution will not do against Donegal.

"In both games we played them, last year in the Championship and this year in the league, we got turned over in that 10-minute spell (after half time). We must avoid that. Donegal scored a goal and three or four points in that spell last year which is a big, big turnaround in a short space of time.

"So if we can avoid that, we can make sure we are in contention all the way through. Derry have a lot of good footballers. And this is the day to produce the goods."

Seldom have a team in the Ulster Championship been written off quite as comprehensively as Derry have this weekend.

Kevin Cassidy wrote midweek: "Whatever happens on Saturday evening I feel that these two teams will still be at opposite ends of the spectrum, but my hope for Derry is that the gap does not widen. Donegal by 6+."

Brendan Devenney backed that up, saying: "Derry won't ask questions of Donegal."

That's fine by McIver.

Summer is here. For him, that means more chances to indulge his love of barbecue cooking, when the Championship allows. Right now, he has a thing for rubbing honey and Chinese five spice into chicken.

"If we get to the final," he said to some straggling journalists just before he skipped out the door, "we will do the next press conference over the barbecue grill!"

We will hold him to that.

Ulster SFC semi-final: Clones, 7.00pm (Sky Sports) Derry v Donegal

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