BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL manager Jim McGuinness is guarding against any hint of complacency setting in as he prepares his charges for the trenches of Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan on Sunday afternoon.
As defending Ulster champions, McGuinness is well aware that his side is there to be shot at this time around – and the manager is keen to stop Donegal folk from getting ahead of themselves.
Although Michael Murphy will miss the game through a knee injury, many still regard Donegal as the firm favourites to advance with Donegal 3/10 to win the game with the bookmakers.
However, McGuinness believes that the recent upheavel in the Breffni county which saw Val Andrews replaced by Terry Hyland as manager could actually work in their favout.
“From our point of view it isn’t a great situation,” McGuinness said.
“I know from my own playing days about the impact of a new manager.
“Everybody that comes in the door now will feel that they have an opportunity to put their best foot forward for game time or for the starting fifteen. That always comes from a change of management and there’ll be a lot of energy because of that.
“We can look in and see what’s happening in Cavan, but we have to get our own house right and that’s what we’ve been focussing on for the last few weeks – and what we’ll continue to focus on for the next ten days.”
McGuinness knows all about the ability of the underdog to slay the favourites. In 1992, he had a pitchside seat as a sub when Donegal toppled the raging hot favourites Dublin to win the All-Ireland. And in 2005, his Naomh Conaill side defied the odds to defeat St Eunan’s to win their first senior championship.
“We were 6/1 to win a club match in 2005 and I had a fair idea in my heart that we could win that game. The opposite can be true as well: You can be 6/1 on and you can lose. That’s reality,” said McGuinness, swatting aside the notion of the turf accountants’ view of his side.
“It is just a number that people throw out. To us it isn’t important.
“It is compeltely irrelevant and has no impact whatsoever on what will happen or how it will happen. Our players don’t buy into that. They know what we want and that if we get that on a given day, that we can be competitive.
I have always said that if we’re competitive we’re in with a chance of winning.”
Although Donegal are coming into this summer with the eyes of the nation upon them after an epic campaign that saw them make all sorts of headlines in 2011, McGuinness insists that the challenge this year in the group is not as stark as it had been 12 months ago.
A year ago, Donegal hadn’t won a game in the Ulster Championship. Now, a county expects.
McGuinness said: “It’s not as big a challenge. Last year we were trying to pull everybody together and trying to identify players. At that stage, you don’t really know players and you don’t know how they operate in different situations under stress.
“We have a good handle on that now. There are still a few lads who have come in and put their best foot forward in the League.
“Pulling the management team and facilities together and dealing with the clubs was all new to us last year. We have a handle on that and it’s much more about getting the football side of things right now.
“We know we’re not the finished article, but we’re working hard to head in that direction. They did make good strides last year. It would be so disappointing if we fell at the first hurdle. We’re trying to do everything in our power to get over it.”
No team has won back-to-back Ulster titles from the preliminary round, but you get a sense that McGuinness’s blueprint could lead him down that path. Still, the Glenties native wasn’t entertaining the possibility of his side topping the province again this summer when he spoke to the media on Friday night in Letterkenny.
He said: “We aren’t thinking about that, we’re working off our own criteria. That criteria is based on Cavan, nothing else. There is a job to be done and we know what the job is.
“We know what we’re working on and what direction we want to head in with the team. That’s ongoing and the Cavan game is our first day out so we can’t expect it to be perfect. We’re hoping that our attitude will be perfect to try to make it happen.
“Hopefully we can do that and then get an opportunity to fine tune it. We’re back to square one now again and we’re looking forward to the first hurdle. We won’t look past it.”