When Jim McGuinness met the Donegal panel for the first time in late 2010 he later referred to a book he once read to set the scene.
McGuinness had studied the diaries of Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer who had headed expeditions to both the North and South Pole in the early years of the twentieth century, with varying degrees of success.
“I read a book once about Scott going across to the North Pole and he said he had to hire character and teach them the skills,” McGuinness said last year.
As new Donegal manager, McGuinness first met his panel one crisp autumnal day at the Rosapenna in November 2010.
He inherited a side low on confidence but felt he had the ability and character within the room to make a success of the group.
He told his players he could see the Donegal supporters walking up the hill in Clones in the month of July.
Two and a bit years later and there will be plenty in the green and gold headed for St Tiernach’s Park on Sunday week as Donegal chase a third provincial title in succession. Did McGuinness really believe this was possible?
“They have probably surpassed my own expectation of them in terms of how good a group they are,” McGuiness said of his players.
“They have done that to the highest levels over the last three years. If we get a result on Sunday, it will probably be the culmination of all that and would be a reflection of that.”
McGuinness’s first season of 2011 was one of traction, while the development of the side flourished last season to win the ultimate prize.
“In 2011 we went very defensive because we wanted results,” McGuinness said.
“We wanted to move the squad forward positively. That took us so far and ultimately we didn’t win an All-Ireland because we didn’t put enough scores on the board.
“We averaged 12 points a game in the championship, but last year we won an All-Ireland with an average of 17½ in the championship.
“The massive emphasis last year was on upping the ante offensively. At the moment we’re working on other things that we’re trying to bring into it.
“It would become very boring if you decided: This is us and this is what we’re about.”
Talk of Ulster and All-Ireland titles was banned since New Year. It’s only now the players can picture the possibility of the three-in-a-row.
“We haven’t talked about it all year, but it’s the reality now. If we win this game that is what will happen. It is very much on our radar now, McGuinness said. “It’s a big opportunity.
“If we can take the Cup into Donegal town, whether it’s a one-point win or whatever, that is all we want.
“That’s what we’re dreaming about and that’s what working towards.”