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Donegal can keep their magic touch alive

Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher and Eamon McGee after the 2012 All-Ireland final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Michael Murphy, Neil Gallagher and Eamon McGee after the 2012 All-Ireland final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

BY CHRIS MCNULTY
c.mcnulty@donegalnews.com

JIM McGuinness bumped into Roy Keane at Celtic’s Champions League game in October 2013 and the now Republic of Ireland assistant manager picked the then Donegal manager’s brain.

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In the build-up to last year’s All-Ireland final, McGuinness gave reporters at his press briefing an insight into the conversation.

“Why did you win the All-Ireland?” Keane asked.

“We won the All-Ireland because we were very focused,” came the typical McGuinness response.

Keane continued to probe.

“Why did you win the All-Ireland?”

“Because they were very dedicated.”

“Why did you win the All-Ireland?”

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“Because we took it to a very high intensity level.”

“Why did you win the All-Ireland?”

“Because we tried to be professional.”

“Why did you win the All-Ireland?”

“Because we worked hard every day.”

McGuinness and Keane, in those moments, told a lot about what the former had done for Donegal in delivering an All-Ireland 13 months previously.

McGuinness said last September: “Every time he asked me the question I thought about it and I gave him the answer. And he said: ‘That’s it. Good players who are very focused and training at a very high intensity level – that’s the magic formula and that’s what you’ve just told me and that’s what we done at Man United’.”

Assessing just where Donegal are at in the aftermath of McGuinness’s departure following the most successful period in the county’s history is hard to gauge, but given that Rory Gallagher has the majority of last year’s squad back in harness he starts off on a sound foundation at least.

The changing of the managerial guard is always a difficult period, but Keane makes a very relevant point about players and managers.

Keane, writing in his latest autobiography, ‘The Second Half’, talks about the successful season (2006/07) he had at Sunderland, when he guided the Wearsiders to promotion into the Premier League after winning the Championship.

Keane talked about ‘bringing in good players and good characters’ and, in reference to Fabio Capello’s old line about what made him a good manager – ‘I’ve always been very fortunate. I’ve always worked with good players’ – Keane wrote: “Never forget that. Never give managers too much credit – but don’t knock them when things are going bad. Jock Stein said: ‘Football is about the fans and the players.’ Never get too carried away about the manager. I’m not playing myself down – but the players did the business.”

Gallagher undoubtedly has the ‘good players’ and the ‘good characters’ within the confines of his dressing room. McGuinness’s greatest legacy is the condition in which he’s left those players.

The importance of those senior men, the leaders of the pack, cannot be underestimated as Gallagher embarks on his new voyage.

Eamon McGee touched on the subject after the recent win over Fermanagh at Fr Tierney Park.

A few days after the retirement of Rory Kavanagh was confirmed, McGee presented a rather frank assessment.

“It’s up to all the boys – myself included – to make it a team effort to fill that void,” the Gaoth Dobhair man said.

“People said after the Mayo game [in 2013] when we got hammered that it was the end of us.

“But we know ourselves we’re a good team now and although Rory Kavanagh is gone, there’s a good man there in Rory Gallagher and it’s up to us to keep the thing going.

“I’d have a lot of respect for Rory [Gallagher] and when he said he was going for the job it made up our mind.”

Paul Durcan has returned for another go and when you consider that Donegal have current All-Stars in the shape of Durcan, Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy, not to mention the Young Footballer of the Year, Ryan McHugh, and in Karl Lacey a man who has swept the boards when it comes to the personal accolades, you come to realise just why Gallagher is relishing the task ahead.

“The big thing that we had over the course of the last four years with Donegal is giving something back to the people of Donegal,” Lacey said this week in an interview after being unveiled as a new mentor on Sky Sports’ Living for Sport scheme.

“They’re tremendous supporters up in Donegal and they follow us the lengths and breadths of the country. To give something back to them, like bringing an Ulster championship back to Donegal Town on a summer’s Sunday evening or bringing Sam Maguire back in September 2012, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why you give these commitments.”

In Monday’s Donegal News, Gallagher outlined his admiration for Murphy: “Michael is a major leader for us. He had a minor injury recently, but we’ve got him back right again. He’s the perfect captain for Donegal.”

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher

The captain’s return was made in that game against Fermanagh, when he came in as a replacement for the black carded Hugh McFadden.

Donegal have played three games under Gallagher’s watch, but no-one was under any illusions about where they stand in the line. The action, proper, gets underway on Saturday against Derry when the curtain rolls up on the National League.

The Championship has become the be-all and end-all of how seasons are gauged, but Murphy issued a stern defence of Donegal’s approach to the League.

“Division 1 – you have to be at yourself from the very off,” Murphy said after it was put to him that, perhaps, Donegal hadn’t taken their spring football too seriously in recent seasons.

“You have to be on the ball. We’ve had a couple of rude awakenings over the last number of years.  Every single day you go out you have to be at the races. If not, you’re quickly found out.

“You put on the Donegal jersey and there’s no holding back. People made a lot of us not taking the League seriously in other years but every day you go out, you go out to win. Simple as.”

When McGuinness took over Donegal in late 2010, they were a beaten docket but, somehow, he rose them from the embers and rekindled the fire.

Gallagher assumes control with Donegal now firmly ranked among the leading contenders for provincial and national honours. Having been involved himself so deeply for three years, he knows the squad better than most.

And he’s well aware, too, of just how key Donegal’s front-line warriors are. Come the crunch, it will be to the likes of Durcan, the McGees, Lacey, Gallagher, Toye, Murphy and McFadden that he’ll crane his neck.

“The experienced players have been a big help,” Gallagher said this week.

“They are very much aware of the new chapter. They understand what’s expected of them and they show such great examples to the newer lads.

“It’s why it’s an exciting time for Donegal, if it’s at training, at matches or even in our video sessions, you can see new relationships forming and you can feel a freshness again.

“In 2011 that was there and there is another changing of the guard now, but with a different dynamic.

“The standards that are expected have greatly increased, but it’s now just routine for these boys with the levels that they’ve managed to find over the last four years. That’s a serious boost to have in any squad when you’ve new faces coming in; they know right away where they have to go.

“This has been a terrific period for Donegal football and we want to stay as competitive as we can and maintain the standards. I’m very comfortable with the backroom team and the squad of players we have. I’m really excited by the job.”

As Keane once observed: ‘Happiness is not being afraid’.

Bonner is favourite to replace Rory Gallagher

County Board now searching for a replacement.

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