Jim McGuinness deserves great credit for this team - Sweeney

Jim McGuinness deserves great credit for this team - Sweeney
When they are picking great Donegal forwards who have no Ulster or All-Ireland medal, then An Clochan Liath’s Adrian “Eddie” Sweeney will be very near the top of the list.

When they are picking great Donegal forwards who have no Ulster or All-Ireland medal, then An Clochan Liath’s Adrian “Eddie” Sweeney will be very near the top of the list.

From 1996-2008, Adrian was the county’s leading scorer, and had a deadly double act with St Eunan’s Brendan Devenney that spread terror in many defences.

They were a burlier version of Galway’s late great Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell.

Built a bit like Charlie Mulgrew, the barrel-chested plumber had a great short powerful burst of speed and he also had the rare talent of kicking points from the sideline over his shoulde . . . especially in that epic drawn encounter with the Dubs in 2002.

That particular skill made him a Gaelic football version of Waterford’s John Mullane in hurling.

Adrian took an All-Star in 2003, the year Armagh should have taken their second All-Ireland title.

But a National League title in 2007 was the sole reward for his efforts in the county jersey.

However the genial Adrian has no envious eyes of the current Donegal crop whom he rates as a “million times” better than his side of the Noughties that included Sweeney, Devenney, Brian Roper, Niall McCready, John Duffy and Damian Diver.

And similarly, he does not believe the current crop of “silent assassins” in the Orchard county are a patch on the great Armagh team from 1999-2010.

“We encountered them first in 1999 and to be honest they were not anything special really.

“We could have won the first match after getting off to a great start but it took a last minute point from Michael Hegarty to draw the match, but that Armagh team came off the back of a good minor team,” he said.

But three short years later, all had changed as Armagh had evolved into a real mean machine.

The 2002 Ulster final was played in murky conditions but Adrian feels that this was one match where Donegal managed to outplay Armagh for long periods.

“We missed several chances but Armagh’s physicality was crucial.

“But we always felt that we had more natural footballers but they had the physical strength, organisation and determination to win no matter what happened”.

Adrian was very closely marked by Justin and Enda McNulty, and also had a few rounds with the silent but deadly Francie Bellew throughout the Noughties.

“They never gave you any space and there was always a few of them around you when the ball came near their goals.

“And they had big powerful men in the right places and really they should have won a couple of All-Irelands because they had that calibre of player”.

In 2003, Donegal decided to copy Armagh by dropping a few men back and it worked very well until Adrian Sweeney’s brother Raymond Sweeney was sent off.

“That upset us and Armagh went on to win and they would have been All-Ireland champions but for Conor Gormley’s great block on Diarmuid Marsden, “ he added.

But unlike Donegal, Armagh players were monastic in their relentless pursuit of excellence.

“I remember when we were on Railway Cup matches we would go socialising, but, to a man, the Armagh lads headed off to the gym.

“They were so programmed that it came as natural as breathing to them and partly explains why they were so really successful.

“And then of course Tyrone copied their system and tweaked it to their needs which was the beginning of modern football as we know it.”

But Saturday’s big match sees a welcome “role reversal” for Tir Conaill.

“In the Noughties, Armagh were always favourites to beat us and they did just that but on Saturday, Donegal are the rightful favourites.

“It is a complete role reversal and good to see.

“I saw Armagh against Meath and thought they were a wee bit inconsistent.

“Although they did score 0-18 and Jamie Clarke was quiet, so Donegal will not need to be complacent.

“Stefan Campbell was also a player that impressed me and like their predecessors, they have a fair bit of size in the side.

“I know there has been some loose talk about the great match it would be if Donegal were to meet Dublin but that is just supporters’ talk and I know that neither Jim or the lads will pay the slightest heed to such talk.

“Jim deserves fantastic credit for what he has done.

“This Donegal team is superbly organised.

“There is a blanket defence that is also highly fluid and that can launch a counter attack in a heartbeat.

“This Armagh team is not nearly as good as the Noughties side just as we were not nearly as good as the present Donegal team.

“It could be very close and dour, but the greatest danger to Donegal when they drop back is the likes of Aaron Kernan going forward as he can create and kick points over the defensive system.

“It could be fairly even up to about 50 to 55 minutes but I would expect Donegal’s fitness, organisation and greater experience to pull them through.”

And like many pundits, Adrian would much prefer Michael Murphy much closer to the opposition’s goal.

“I know he played a tactical role against Monaghan but he is best suited to the opponent’s goal.

“It was a bit funny to see Vinny Corey spending nearly the whole match eye-balling Michael, but that just shows how dangerous he is to our opponents.

“This is an exceptionally talented Donegal side who have an All-Ireland title and three Ulster titles in four years, and we have some real quality in Murphy, Colm McFadden and look at Neil McGee . . . look at the power and pace he has to get forward and link up with the attack.

“He is certainly the finest full-back in the country over the past few years.

“And of course Karl Lacey has four All-Stars so we do have quite an amount of quality.

“This Armagh team are not nearly as good as the sides we met and Donegal should get through, but it could be fairly tight.”