BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT THE HARCOURT HOTEL, DUBLIN
IT WAS like it was September all over again on Friday night as the Harcourt Hotel and Dtwo Club hosted a fund-raising night for the Donegal team training fund.
Donegal fans jammed into the Harcourt Street venue as Jim McGuinness and members of the All-Ireland winning Donegal team brought Sam Maguire to the capital for another night of celebration.
Highland Radio hosted the event held in the establishment owned by Glenties man Brian McGill and in an on-stage Q&A with Charlie Collins, the Donegal manager has said that ‘something special’ in his group of players will hopefully drive them towards further glory next season.
“We worked very hard in the last two years and a lot of time, effort and sacrifice went into it,” McGuinness told the packed house. The €10 admission fee went to the Donegal fund, while a Phonathon and Textathon held on the night were also for the same fund.
“We feel that we have created something special.
“There is a lot more out there for them if they can keep their focus.
“Donegal is very lucky to have such a group of players that is so focussed, so committed and so dedicated to what we’re doing. I can see that in their eyes. That makes my job, as a manager and a coach, much easier. We’re very fortunate to have players like that and hopefully now in the off-season we can find one or two more.
“I firmly believe that we’re not the finished article and I firmly believe that they still have another 35 to 40 per cent to find in themselves.
“We have come from a situation of having a lot of bad days out with Donegal and a lot of hurt; days out watching Tyrone win three All-Irelands and five Ulsters. Our lads are now getting a taste of that.
“Every single training session there was no sign of anything other than pure focus, putting the best feet forward. There was no giddiness at all.”
McGuinness’s own star has rocketed since September, his recent appointment to a Performance Consultant’s role at Celtic FC a further pointer as to his reputation.
Once again, though, the charismatic Glenties man reiterated his commitment to Donegal. And their defence of the Ulster Championship has clearly the Donegal chief excited. More than once in his interview, indeed several times, he referenced the importance of their opening Championship tussle with Tyrone.
He said: I’m delighted Celtic have been supportive and, from a Donegal point of view, everything is about the Tyrone match, nothing else. All our talk and all of our training will be geared towards that game.
“It is a great challenge for us. For us it isn’t about All-Ireland finals or even about Ulster semi-finals and finals – it is all about Tyrone. We will prepare as best we can for that game and really focus on that game.
“If we lose the first game against Tyrone then it’s a long, long way from there. If we beat Tyrone, though, then we’re one step closer. We have always done that, always just taken the next game because we respect every opponent that we have.
“If we go in and given it everything and left nothing behind, you have to make peace with the result after that.”
McGuinness was joined by his inspirational captain Michael Murphy, who also spoke to the crowd, as did defender Eamon McGee. Several other squad members, including the Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey and All-Stars Neil McGee and Neil Gallagher, mingled in what was a real Donegal crowd.
For the Donegal fans in the capital, it was a special night as Sam sparkled in their midst. And manager McGuinness knows well what it means to people outside Donegal.
He said: “We were in America with the Cup for a few days and we were over in London at a Donegal function with the Cup as well. Bringing the Cup to Donegal people in these places was a real privilege.
“People in the States were coming up with tears in their eyes saying ‘this is our All-Ireland’ and that was great to see.
“It’s great now to be in Dublin and to see so many people here again. Donegal is, by its nature, a county that people have to leave to find work.
“It’s great for us to be able to again bring the Cup here to more Donegal people. These people have supported the team so strongly.”
Fans again replayed the epic surge to Sam and yet another Donegal party ran long into the chilly Dublin night and well into Saturday.
However, the players have returned to some personal training in the last week or two, and McGuinness has a date ringed in his calendar for them. He added: “We have had a lot of nights like this, but once December 31 comes, it’s lights out for us.”
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.