Jimmy’s still winning matches. Donegal’s win – cheered on by a hell of a lot of north Leitrim folk if the people I saw around Croke Park on Sunday is anything to go by – was one of the most complete football performances I have seen.
I don’t buy into the criticism that has been dished out to Jim McGuinness and his team. I love the game they play; I would absolutely love to play for that team. The individual means nothing, the team means everything.
The levels of fitness those players have achieved deserves special mention but it is their ability to remain true to a system and do the simple things right almost all the time that makes them the winners they are. But they haven’t finished yet.
McGuinness’ biggest challenge over the next four weeks will be to keep his players cosseted away from the mayhem that is going to wash over the hills of Donegal like a Green and Gold tsunami as they prepare for only the second All Ireland in the county’s history.
(One way of keeping things cool, calm and collected would be to replay the footage of Neil Gallagher receiving his Sunday Game Man-of-the-Match award at big screens all over the county. Under-stated, matter of fact and no fussing – just the same as the way the big Glenswilly man plays.)
I tuned into The Sunday Game highlights looking forward to some of Donegal’s critics eating humble pie in light of their defeat of yet another team wearing the favourites tag. I should have known better. When it was put to Tony Davis that he was one of the most vociferous critics of Donegal’s tactics last year he maintained he was justified in his criticism. “They would have won nothing if they kept playing like that,” he announced, despite the fact they won Ulster in 2011.
Some of the vitriol directed at Donegal in the media last year was at best ignorant (in the original meaning of the word) at worst obnoxious. McGuinness, his backroom team and his players were charged with the death of football.
Yes they played a very defensive game last year but in every interview I heard, McGuinness stressed they were only in year one of a three year programme designed to transform the way this Donegal side played.
Just look at how they have advanced in year two of that plan – their scoring average would win games against any team from any era. You can’t call that defensive.
Throughout the previous decade the GAA media punditry, especially those from some of the Sacred Cow Counties such as Kerry, Meath or Dublin, delighted in watching Donegal self-destruct on big occasions. Donegal weren’t willing to toe the line, make the sacrifices or win the hard way, they pompously pouted.
Now that they are game changers and leaders in terms of preparation and execution of a simple game plan based on superior fitness, patience, preparation and belief, they aren’t happy either.
Well they’re happy around Donegal this week, and I couldn’t be happier either. I just hope Mayo beat Dublin next week and give the country its first All Ireland final between men from the West and the Northwest.
Finally, a short word of support for Barry McFadden’s feet. Barry – Secretary of the Leitrim Ladies County Board – walked from Croke Park to Drumkeerin a couple of weeks ago to raise funds for St. Luke’s and the Leitrim Ladies.
That was 190km over six days, with some other lads from the Drumkeerin club pitching in along the way to keep him company.
Sponsorship cards are around the county with a function taking place in Drumkeerin in the Autumn. (Barry denies he is eyeing the 50km Walk in Rio 2016.)
The Leitrim Ladies came up short against a superior Waterford in the Intermediate championship, but on Saturday their U16 counterparts claimed a great win over Clare in Banagher to win the All Ireland C title. That came fresh on the back of the U14s Connacht B title. All in all a good year and it is evident there is some great coaching being done at all levels and excellent structures in place.
All this takes money of course, and the people who make all this happen are running the ‘Sports Persons Dreams’ fundraiser at the moment. You read about the launch in this paper already and the prizes really are amazing.
The Grand Slam prize is a fantastic package of tickets to over 150 top sporting events, covering Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, rugby, soccer, equestrian, motor racing and golf plus €10,000 spending money. Alternatively, the winner can elect to choose a Renault Sportscar, or a cash alternative. Check out www.sportspersonsdream.com for more details.