Perhaps it was the innocence of youth but when a 19-year-old Frank McGlynn rolled into Croke Park the 2006 Ulster final against Armagh he thought these type of days would come around every turnabout.
The Donegal defender was part of Brian McIver’s panel that put up a reasonable showing but fell short against the team managed by Joe Kernan, who sealed their third successive provincial championship with a 1-9 to 0-9 win. Little did McGlynn know as the team bus pulled away from the Jones’ Road that Donegal - never mind an Ulster championship -would win only one game in Ulster in the next four years.
“I was involved in 2006 but when you’re young you don’t always realise the gravity of the whole thing, “ he says. “But with no Ulster finals in between and I realise the importance as it could be any number of years before we get the chance again.”
Now Donegal are back at the top table of Ulster football and face Derry on Sunday in Clones in what h a s been billed as a novel pairing after 12 years of dominance from the Tyrone-Armagh axis. Donegal were always capable of playing with brilliance or falling flat on their faces in befuddlement but after years of unsuccessfully playing an offthe-cuff style of football, Jim McGuinness had moulded a diligent panel with his structured approach.
In fact, by McGlynn’s description, it’s a form of socialism. Donegal gathered pace on their way to winning Division Two of the NFL. Since then they come through the preliminary round to reach an Ulster final after routine wins over Antrim and Cavan before coming from five points down to defeat Tyrone in the semi-final last month.
“Jim is very good at organisation, communication and he wants to improve every player, “ McGlynn adds. “The players play as an overall unit and he really concentrates on those items other people might skim over. It’s a team game. There’s 15 players on the field at any given time on any given day and he really concentrates on the little details those 15 players can provide for Donegal. “At the start of every year you set your heights high but you don’t want to look past the first game. After a good league had to get past Antrim and then we had a good victory over Cavan, which set us up nicely for the Tyrone game. We prepared ourselves well and we were lucky enough to come out on the right end of the result.”
McGlynn started the season on the bench but was tellingly introduced as a first half substitute during Donegal’s 1-10 to 0-6 win in Omagh in the NFL in February. Since then, he has cemented a position, whether it be wing-back or in the corner, although missed the Ulster quarter-final against Cavan with a hamstring injury. However, McGuinness remembered McGlynn’s impact against Tyrone in the league and after proving his fitness he was thrown back into the fray against Mickey Harte’s team last month for the dramatic 2-6 to 0-9 win.
“It was hard to take as I was in the starting 15 and then missed out, especially with the panel we have this year. There is no guarantee you can get your place back so I was fortunate enough against Tyrone. You just have to knuckle down when you are injured and do your best to get back in.” Schoolteacher McGlynn is fully aware Donegal will need to continue their evolution to stand a chance against a Derry team who blew the championship open with an excellent win over Armagh. And after 19 years without an Ulster title the Glenfin clubman realises that Donegal’s players are playing for more than themselves come Sunday.
“If we want to beat Derry, in a nutshell, we will have to work very hard. They like to play in the space and they showed that against an Armagh team that would pride themselves on being very hard working. We will have to lift our own levels from the Tyrone game because if we replicate out first half performance there against Derry the game could be over at halftime.
“Even after the Tyrone game on the Monday morning you could feel the lift from people when you met them or talked to them. For a lot of years people didn’t have an awful lot to talk about so we’re happy to have given them a lift. We realise how important this Ulster final is, not only to ourselves but to the people of Donegal.”