Donegal are moving in the right direction

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Donegal are moving in the right direction
By his own admission, Jim McGuinness has repeated himself on seven different Sunday afternoons over the course of the Spring.

By his own admission, Jim McGuinness has repeated himself on seven different Sunday afternoons over the course of the Spring.

The Donegal manager expressed just what he wanted to achieve from the Allianz League Division Two in Portlaoise, Salthill, Letterkenny, Ballybofey, Newry, Ballyshannon and Armagh.

“The thing that I have been probably torturing you all with over the whole campaign is that we are trying to bring some of the lads back into it and give the others fitness,” he said at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh after Donegal’s 2-10 to 1-8 victory over the side managed by Paul Grimley.

“We’re happy that we managed to do that and also gain promotion. There’s still a bit of work to be done on the fitness side of things for some of the boys but we’ve got seven weeks now and that’s where our focus is.”

Donegal were in a stranglehold by Armagh for the best part of the decade but Sunday’s win means McGuinness has now sent the Orchard County from Divisions One to Three.

“It turned out to be a really competitive game and a really physical game and there was a lot of play broken up in it,” he added,

“Armagh have quality players and always have had quality players. Our defence did really well.”

In seven weeks time, Donegal open their Ulster championship campaign against a Derry team that have blazed a trail through Division One this year.

In Donegal’s seven outings so far, McGuinness has seen his players, by and large, reach a common level of fitness.

Whereas 12 months ago, players were dropping off like flies with one complaint or another, this year the panel is moving in the right direction.

Paddy McGrath is the only player with real ground to make up, having not featured this year, but the Ardara corner-back is said to be making good progress from a long-standing Gilmore’s Groin complaint.

Neil Gallagher started his first match for the county this year having had groin trouble, while Karl Lacey was moving freer yesterday than at any point this season following a hip operation almost 18 months ago that was followed by surgery on a knee cartilage injury.

“I’m very happy with Karl Lacey today,” McGuinness added. “He moved up to another level and there’s another few levels in him.”

A fit panel brings with it options. As well as the stalwarts of the 2012 All-Ireland win, McGuinness can call on fresh faces like Odhran MacNiallias and the U-21 contingent of Ryan McHugh, Hugh McFadden and Darach O’Connor.

Patrick McBrearty is the captain of that team, who face Cavan in the Ulster U-21 final in Armagh on Wednesday night.

The Kilcar forward showed his value to the seniors as he kicked two fine points after coming in off the bench.

“Patrick McBrearty came off the bench and brought a different dimension and kicked two very difficult scores so that was positive,” McGuinness said.

“We would’ve have take the U-21’s on if we could’ve avoided it but the game was very tight. They did well and we wish them well on Wednesday night.”

Against Armagh, it was one of the more experienced players who caught the eye with Rory Kavanagh being named man of the match for the second Sunday in succession.

The 31-year-old was the pick of the bunch last weekend in Donegal’s 1-19 to 3-7 success over Louth.

“Rory Kavanagh is a quality player and it’s just a matter of getting him moving early in the game,” McGuinness said of the St Eunan’s midfielder. “He brought the fight to Armagh really well.”

So, with a myriad of potential complications in the week approaching the final series of games in Division Two, there was no need for head-scratching the top two going into the day - Donegal and Monaghan - cemented their positions.

They will now meet in the final on Sunday, April 27.

“We’re happy enough with the league campaign,” McGuinness said. “We road-tested different things and some of them worked and some didn’t.

“It was good to get competitive games to see if those things would work. We’ve managed to do that and to bring the players on and we got promotion. There’s a lot to juggle there.”

Two years ago, McGuinness said that things were never static and you were always either going forwards or backwards.

Division Two over those seven Sunday afternoons have shown Donegal to be taking the positive trajectory.