JANUARY and Dr McKenna Cup time isn’t really the time for tears to flow if a given result doesn’t go your way and after a two-point loss to UUJ it’ll be sweat flowing from the Donegal panel as Jim McGuinness gets training into full swing.
The Donegal manager was slightly disappointed with the conclusion to the contest when four CJ McGourty points gave the visitors a 0-11 to 0-9 win in Letterkenny. McGuinness mixed his team selections between Friday’s 2-12 to 2-11 challenge game in Kinawley, Co Fermanagh, against Roscommon and Sunday and will continue to experiment in the coming weeks. Both fixtures were essentially cobweb blowing exercises.
“It’s not what we wanted at the end of the day result-wise but it’s good to get the ball rolling and it’s good to get out on the pitch again,” he said, whilst swiftly rubbing his hands together for whatever heat remained in the January air at the mouth of the O’Donnell Park tunnel.
“First day out is always going to be difficult and there’s a lot of new faces there and it’s good to get a look at a few people. It wasn’t a great game really and there was a lot of mistakes and unforced errors on both teams. There wasn’t a great intensity in the game. We tired and fatigued a bit at the end and we’ll look at that and factor it into the next four weeks.
“There would be very few who we think would be at the level today. There were maybe only three or four out of the 15 that came up to the level of fitness or competitiveness. There’s a lot of work to be done within the squad and that’s where we are headed now.
“We had a few goal chances and maybe three or four that dropped into the ‘keeper’s hands as well – with the breeze they maybe should have gone over the bar - but at the same time we haven’t got a lot of work done and they’re not long back from the holiday and they had a long year last year. Now it’s just about getting back onto the training field and getting a wee bit of work done and starting to build from there for the next month.”
McGuinness’s preparation for the National Football League Division One, which gets underway for Donegal on February 4 against Down, is somewhat muddled. With UUJ possessing Leo McLoone and Eoin Waide for the duration of the Dr McKenna Cup, while Mark McHugh is with Sligo IT in the FBD Connacht League and skipper Michael Murphy, Michael Boyle and Martin McElhinney on duty with DCU in the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup, the manager will not have a full panel to choose from until Newry.
“The difficulty for us is we have a lot of players at other colleges,” McGuinness added. “We’d prefer to have them with us in the lead into the Down game but that’s the way it is. We just have to focus on the lads we have here in this dressing room and bring them up to a good level.
“We’re at a slight disadvantage because of that and heading to Newry for a first league game without them having played a competitive game for us is a difficult situation. We’re a young squad and a year down the track and we’re still trying to develop them and develop cohesion in what you want to do.
“It’s not easy going into a game against Down and then we have Laois the week afterwards. We’d prefer to have them.”
Twelve months ago at MacCumhaill Park McGuinness’s managerial bow saw Donegal defeat UUJ 0-14 to 0-10. Although on paper this season has started worse than last McGuinness is content with Donegal’s standing having won promotion from Division Two, an Ulster championship and made it to an All-Ireland semi-final.
“In certain aspects we’re a lot further on,” he said in regards the progress to date. “We have a lot of experience from last year and we’ve upped the ladder and are in Division One so really it’s just about getting a few good weeks before the Down match, where we’d like to hit the ground running. We’re just going to keep doing what we are doing and go about our business and try to push the squad on.
“Last year during the league it was about being competitive, being there or thereabouts and picking up points.
“It won’t be any different this year. Our main aim is Cavan in the Ulster championship in May and trying to win that game. We’ll be trying to look at everyone within the squad and give them a chance at it in the next couple of weeks and couple of months and we’ll make our decisions based on that.”