Karl Lacey has moved to quell opinion that lack of hunger was the prime factor in Donegal’s failed bid to retain the Ulster and All-Ireland championships last year.
After lifting Sam Maguire for only the second time in 2012, hopes of an unprecedented three provincial titles in a row were scuppered when Monaghan lifted the Anglo-Celt in July before Mayo hammered Jim McGuinness’s battered and bruised team 4-17 to 0-10 in the All-Ireland quarter-final on August Bank Holiday weekend.
“I suppose our hunger was questioned after it and that was a wee bit frustrating to hear that,” Lacey said when queried over whether Monaghan were simply wanted an Ulster championship more than Donegal.
“The hunger was definitely there. We wanted it. We were going for three in a row, something that was never done in Donegal and would have been legendary status if we’d got it. To lose that then was disappointing but we played Laois six days later and tried to pick it up again. We got the result, got back to Croke Park and were just blown away by Mayo.
“Every man was trying their best and we just didn’t have it in the legs, didn’t have the endurance and didn’t have the speed or sharpness. You’re looking over at the sideline and asking Jim, ‘what the hell’s going on here?’ Jim didn’t have the answers, that’s just the way it was.
“We were well beaten, it was by six or seven points by the time I was asked to warm up. I suppose it doesn’t matter at that stage if you’re Superman or whoever you are. I don’t think it was going to make any difference who came on.
“It was just about getting on and doing the best we could, really. Half-time, I remember Jim was saying ‘we’re still in this, we still can win this. He still had the belief that we could go out and put in a big second half. You could just see in guys’ eyes in the dressing-room: ‘how the hell are we going to get this back?’
“That was a bit disappointing. The fight had nearly gone out of us at that stage and Jim was trying to push us on a wee bit and under my three years under Jim I had never seen that happen before. That was the way it went.”
Lacey was the 2012 GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year but was forced into hip surgery that December, which meant the Four Masters defender missed last year’s entire Allianz League. He returned to play a cameo role in Donegal’s Ulster championship quarter-final win over Tyrone but then required a minor knee operation. He, like much of the panel, was chasing fitness all summer.
“There are a lot of issues that go with winning an All Ireland,” Lacey said of 2012. “These things have to be done as well. I suppose it was new to all of us. We thought – Jim thought, if we came back in January we would have enough time. Looking back on it now we didn’t. If we were to win it again I’m sure you wouldn’t take as much time and you wouldn’t let the preparations be affected.”
The contemporary Donegal are much more under the radar than last year’s one that were plonked in the spotlight. McGuinness is now in his fourth year in charge and pre-season is said to be incredibly thorough.
Rory Gallagher and Maxi Curran parted company with the set-up in September and have been replaced by Damien Diver, John Duffy and Paul McGonigle.
“He’s a massive part of what Donegal have achieved over the last three years,” Lacey continued of McGuinness. “Just to have him back, he wants to prove a point as well. There are question marks over his head too.
“He wants to prove a point that this Donegal team – there is more in us. There’s an Ulster championship in us. He is highly respected by every single player. Unfortunately Rory is out of the backroom team. That was our of our control but that’s the way you go.
“It’s was unexpected really. We didn’t know as players what was going on until it was actually announced. It was quite a shock but you have to respect the manager’s decision and if he thought that was the best way – I think the two of them agreed – to go forward for the team then we have got to believe in that.
“It’s actually enjoyable now at the moment. Going into the National League, you’re starting to play games in training, in-house games and conditioned games and starting to feel good again.
“The fun element is back again but it was a hard slog for six or seven weeks. It’s vital to get that stuff done and mentally it’s great to have that stuff in the bank and we can push on now.”