BY CHRIS MCNULTY
Afortnight ago, Frank McGlynn shut the door of his classroom at Stramore National School for the summer months.
The Glenfin man, who teaches first, second and third classes at the rural school in Glendowan – with picturesque Glenveagh National Park as its backdrop – has been trying to fill the void in the days since.
He has a lot of time to think about Sunday’s Ulster final meeting with Down.
Baby Harry – who celebrated his first birthday last Sunday – keeps him occupied for a good portion of it.
Next weekend, Harry will be in the stand in St Tiernach’s Park cheering Daddy on, a year after he won his first Ulster medal with his new arrival still in Letterkenny Hospital, having been born eight weeks premature.
“He’s crawling about the place now and keeps me busy that’s for sure,” smiles doting dad, Frank.
The sleepless nights have done nothing to diminish his performances. If anything, he’s taken his game up a notch over the last month with sterling displays in the wins over Derry and Tyrone that have brought Donegal to history’s threshold.
With just over a week to go, the quiet-spoken defender is counting down the hours to the big day.
“I try to relax now as much as possible,” he says of the extra hours he has on his timetable, “maybe get to the swimming pool, get some gym work done during the day instead of the really early mornings. I’d rather keep myself a bit busy.”
He says he ‘reads the odd autobiography’ when he finds the time. In a recent interview, he referenced ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, a table tennis player who based his entire career around one of the theories that McGlynn holds dear – of practice making perfect.
“The more work you do, the more times you have the ball in your hand, the better you are going to be,” says the 26-year old.
Tennis player Rafael Nadal is a sports person referenced by many in other codes when they discuss their heroes.
In his memoirs, written with John Carlin, Nadal mentions another trait of the great sports people – control.
“If you can control the mind, you can control the body,” says Nadal.
Benito Pérez Barbadillo, Nadal’s press officer spoke of what makes Nadal the competitor he is.
“He is a person who needs to be in control of everything,” says Pérez, “but since that is impossible he invests all he has in controlling the one part of his life over which he has most command – Rafa the tennis player.”
It’s something Frank McGlynn can relate to.
The bookmakers have Donegal quoted at odds of 2/9 to win the Ulster final next weekend. Some have Down at 4/1. In a two-horse race like the Ulster final, they seem crazy.
McGlynn, though, gives a revealing insight into the mindset that has gripped the modern Donegal footballer – outside sources, like the bookmakers, are meaningless to them.
“We need to avoid all the other things and concentrate on what we can control,” he says.
“Everyday things happen that you don’t see – you have to avoid all of that and not let those things get on your mind.
“The odds for the game, for example, aren’t something we’re bothered about at all.
“We know what to expect from Down, so we don’t read too much into what anyone else is saying. Down will be a lot stronger with Benny and Dan back in.
“It is a matter of concentrating on the jobs we have been given. We all know at this stage what is expected of us.”
It’s a theme that has emanated from a lot of players and the management this year. The group has on one hand the look of a strictly-marshalled military unit about it, but there lies within a deep bond between the players.
On their recent training camp at Johnstown House in Co.Meath before the Derry game, the games of table tennis stretched into hours and the card school on the bus can get lively on occasion.
McGlynn is partial to the odd game of ’25’ himself.
“The cards passes the journeys,” he says.
“It can get a bit heated mind you…with some boys you could even get a few extra cards popping up! There does be a good bit of banter and slagging with it.”
He’s only 26 but is a veteran of some 83 games in a Donegal senior jersey. This will be his third Ulster final having missed out in 2006 before playing an integral part as Donegal finally ended their hoodoo last year.
“There was definitely some contrast between them,” says McGlynn.
“There was a big incentive last year – a chance to become the first team in 19 years from Donegal to win it. There is a different type of challenge and a different type of pressure now.
“At the start of the year, the main aim we had was to win Ulster.
“It wasn’t about retaining it, as such, but to take a clean slate and get out to win it. It was a case of trying, as much as we could, to forget about last year and forget about the whole back-to-back thing.
“We need to look at it as another game of football that’s there to be won.”
In Down, he sees, in many ways, a mirror image of the Donegal of 2011 – enough to concentrate the minds of the squad for next weekend’s meeting in Clones.
He says: “It has been a while for Down. They were in an All-Ireland final two years ago and they’ll be no pushover. They will be going all out to get that cup to Down. They have a very good record in finals and there will be no fear in them.”
His recent move into the half-back line has been a masterstroke. A nominee for an All-Star at corner-back last year, he’s now heading into the same territory – but in the next line of defence, where he’s become one of Donegal’s most important attacking options.
“When the chances come now I try to get involved as much as possible in the attack,” he says.
“We have still kept our defensive qualities from last year.
“We’re encouraged to get up the field and it seems now that when you’re going up, you can pass out the half-forward line or even some of the full-forwards. You need to be adaptable now in Gaelic football and be in control of the ball.
“My main job is still as a defender though – and you couldn’t do all that going forward unless the fitness levels were there to let you get back. You can’t neglect the defence when going on a burst up the field.”
As Rafael Nadal once put it: “I always play well when the important match arrives. I hope that this time is not the exception.”