BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THE morning after Donegal’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kerry, a few Donegal players boarded a flight to London.
Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy, Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher jetted out to take in some of the Olympic Games.
The world’s top sports stars talked for a couple of weeks about fulfilling their dreams.
A video clip did the rounds leading up to Katie Taylor’s gold medal fight. An 11-year old Katie was shown speaking to RTE.
“I’m going to go right to the very top,” says the young Taylor.
Double gold medalist Mo Farah, who won the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m, spoke about reaping what he sowed.
“I’ve been working out in the winter over 120 miles a week, week in, week out, so there were days when I got up and I was tired,” said Farah.
“But when you have a vision and you have a dream, you dig in more.”
This Sunday, Jim McGuinness takes his Donegal squad to Dublin this weekend to face Cork in an All-Ireland semi-final. It’s the last hurdle to take them into an All-Ireland final.
In the same vein as Farah and Taylor, McGuinness’s players have dreams too.
“Our players have been watching All-Ireland finals since they were four or five years old, and now they are seventy minutes away from it themselves,” said the Donegal manager.
Karl Lacey joins an exclusive club on Sunday when his name is entered into the Centurions’ book.
The classy Four Masters defender will mark his 100th appearance when he lines out against Cork at Croke Park.
But he’s got a bigger milestone on his mind.
“Every kid dreams of playing in an All-Ireland final,” says Lace.
“You’re 70 minutes away from it now. The likes of Cork are the teams you want to be playing against.
“There is great expectation in Donegal the moment and you don’t want to let down that huge crowd.”
Lacey is a triple All-Star, with gongs collected in 2006, 2009 and 2011. The first two he picked up in defeats to Cork, which ended those summers. Last year, it was the Dubs who killed the dream – on a day when many feel an injury to Lacey was a turning point.
Lacey said: “We really should have kicked on because it was definitely there for the taking.
“Maybe we did drop back back a wee bit too much and I think it might have happened us against Kerry as well when we were six points up.
“That’s all lessons that we’re learning as we go along. In those positions you have to be pushing on, particularly at this stage of it against better teams.
“There were a lot of critics on about it, trying to put a bit of pressure on Jim, but Jim doesn’t mind that.
“I think Jim knew himself that the performance against Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final wasn’t going to be good enough to win an All-Ireland this year.
“The one way he could tweak that was our offensive play.
“Since he got us together in January that’s what we’ve been working on. We’re working on kicking on and scoring more scores, while staying as tight in defence as we possibly could.”
McGuinness’s methods have been the stuff of Gaelic football mythology and the point of serious debate across the country.
Lacey speaks with real affection for his manager – who has helped lead his ace onto the big stage two years running.
Lacey said: “Yeah we’ve 11 games played under him and 10 won. He’s young, he’s fresh, he’s huge GAA knowledge and a great way of thinking.
“He studied psychology and has all the degrees you could think of. His enthusiasm is great. Some managers sit back with the notepad watching training, he’s in the middle of it, shouting us on.
“He’s definitely bringing us places. I couldn’t say enough about him. Everyone’s got huge respect for him. Whatever he says, we know that definitely is what has to be done.
“The good thing about Jim is he keeps you very level headed. He keeps your focus.”
The year of his first All-Star (2006), Lacey and Donegal came close to beating Cork in a quarter-final, but the house of cards came crumbling in 2009 when Cork blasted 1-27 past Donegal. Lacey headed off travelling shortly after that game.
It’s a day that still cuts the Four Masters man deep ahead of his 100th appearance in a Donegal shirt.
He said: “That was just a horrible day. We are miles ahead of what we were then – at least I hope we are. But Cork have improved since then as well.
“That’s a game, a day, that’s to forget playing for Donegal. Leaving Croke Park that day was tough to take. We have the chance now to put things right.
“We didn’t have the preparation. All the times I played for Donegal back then, you’re going to Croke Park hoping to put in a big performance more than anything. Now we’re going up with the belief that if we do stick to the game-plan that Jim gives us and if you give it your all that you won’t be far away. That’s a big difference.”
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.