BY CHRIS MCNULTY
JIM McGuinness hopes to see Donegal’s new training regime pay off this summer.
Following their recent win over Derry at Celtic Park, Donegal will take on Antrim on Sunday fortnight, June 22nd, where a place in their fourth Ulster final in a row is the reward on offer.
Striking the same high notes as they managed in 2012 is the aim for Donegal and McGuinness says that he wants his men to reach their peak ‘at the height of the summer’. After 2013 saw them relinquish their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns, there was a renewed bite about Donegal when they took out Derry two weeks ago.
Nursing injuries to key players like Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Paddy McGrath and Patrick McBrearty at the start of the campaign, McGuinness opted to change tact – and is hoping that his side can find a few more gears in the coming weeks.
“We took a different approach this year,” he told club delegates in a bi-annual address to the county committee on Tuesday night at The Villa Rose Hotel, Ballybofey.
“For the last couple of years we worked very hard at the beginning of the year and would have started off on high intensity levels and would have tried to build endurance in the weeks and months leading into Championship. We have flipped that this year and taken a different approach to the training. We are looking at a more long-term approach now.
“The key reason behind that was the number of players we had injured last year and trying to bring them with us this year. We figured that if we worked very hard early in the season that we would put them under pressure.
“We were working towards getting it right for the Derry game. It also hopefully means that we’re still progressing and still building towards peaking at the height of the summer, which hopefully will stand us in good stead.”
The week before the Division 2 League final against Monaghan, Donegal spent seven days at a training camp in The Algarve. Their week at The Browns Sports and Leisure Club in Vilamoura was used to ‘press the button’ as McGuinness says.
The six-point defeat to Monaghan at Croke Park sparked fears that Donegal had run their race.
However, they hit back to answer their critics and cynics in Celtic Park. The words of Tommy Carr rang true. During the Monaghan game, Carr had told Declan Bonner, this newspaper’s Gaelic Games analyst, that the full worth of the Algarve trip wouldn’t be seen for at least three weeks. As the Dublin manager, Carr had been there and done that.
On Tuesday night, McGuinness admitted that the defeat was ‘the most disappointing game of all the League games’.
“There were a few factors that, on reflection, impacted that day,” he explained.
“We decided that we would push the button earlier in terms of our preparation for the Championship. On the back of that we brought the phase of training we were in into the game. A lot of people were saying after the game that we looked very leggy and we lacked energy. We were just back from the training camp and that was still in their legs. It was still a very good work out in Croke Park. Having got promotion it was sort of bonus territory ahead of the Derry game.”
Donegal sealed promotion on the final day of the regular league season, winning against Armagh at the Athletic Grounds. It had been a useful if not impressive campaign from the Tír Chonaill men.
McGuinness wore a contented look throughout the spring.
“There were many positives to take from the League,” he told Tuesday’s meeting.
“We managed to achieve the objective we had from the start of the year – to get promotion into Division 1.
“We had a lot of very good performances over the eight games. The League gave us the chance to blood new players. We had new players playing in the Championship so that was a big plus. That wouldn’t have happened but for the exposure they got during the League.
“We also had the opportunity to bring players back into the fold and integrate them during the League.
“The League also gave us the chance to road test different aspects of our play that we have been working on. We try to do that every year.
“We had five things this year that we were focussing on with a view to bringing them into the Championship. We also looked at four different systems in the League. That was very positive. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t work and some of them worked in spells. It was good to know that going into the Championship.”
The Glenties man gave a brief outline of the year to date, informing delegates that ‘an awful lot of work leading into the League’ resulted in the whirlwind start with wins away to Laois and Galway.
Donegal’s performances tapered somewhat, but McGuinness remained relaxed, even in defeat when they were beaten by Down in Newry.
He said: “We were disappointed with the result, but when we reflected on the game there were a lot of positives. We had 28 shots to Down’s 18 and we still managed to lose the game. That wouldn’t normally happen. Our conversion rate is usually 60 per cent, so any day we have 28 shots we’d be hoping to win the match. Nevertheless it was disappointing to lose for the first time.”
McGuinness paid tribute to the group of businessmen who dug deep to help fund the trip to the Algarve, a camp that the manager said ‘really pulled all of our preparation together’.
He said: “We try to be realistic and we understand that we aren’t Dublin or Kerry in terms of the resources.
“We try to work within a budget with the County Board to prepare the team. If there are certain other things we need or that need to be done above and beyond that we try to source the money through business people to make up the difference.”
The outlook, following the defeat of Derry in a crunch clash in a cauldron at Celtic Park, is now much brighter than it had been in previous weeks.
McGuinness said: “First and foremost we’re delighted to get over the line. It was a big game away from home and a game that had to be won. The boys stepped up to the plate in the second half. They worked very hard for the cause and got a good performance.
“The performance won’t be good enough to win Ulster. We’re looking to improve it and we’ll build now for the Antrim game. Please God we’ll get a victory there to let us push on again.”