Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has been warned to be wary of strangers bearing gifts after he and his players received glowing tributes in the national media following last Saturday’s win over Derry.
The warning has been issued by former Donegal manager Tom Conaghan, who jumped to McGuinness and his team’s defence following stinging comments in the press and the media last year for the style of play employed by Donegal.
Former Kerry player and RTE Sunday Game analyst, Pat Spillane, was to the fore in his criticism of McGuinness and the Donegal style of play in 2011.
The eight-time All-Star was highly critical of Donegal right throughout last year’s championship run to the All-Ireland semi-final and defeat to Dublin. The Kerry man was so perplexed after the Donegal, Dublin game that he branded Donegal’s ultra defensive style Shi’ite football.
Imagine the surprise across Donegal on Sunday night, when on the Sunday Game, Spillane was high in his praise of Jim McGuinness and Donegal’s performance and the manner in which they sent Derry packing in Saturday evening’s Ulster quarter-final meeting in Ballybofey.
It has certainly been a case of from ‘class villain’ to ‘best boy’ status for McGuinness and his Donegal players this week in the aftermath of Saturday night’s triumph over the Oak Leaf men, in what was a repeat of last July’s Ulster final.
Another Kerry star of more recent vintage than Spillane, Darragh O’Se, has also heaped praise on McGuinness and his players this week.
In his weekly column in the Irish Times yesterday (Wednesday) O’Se, a four time All-Star and holder of six All-Ireland medals, also lauded Donegal and McGuinness and stated that they were genuine championship contenders.
“Anyone who watched Donegal on Saturday night saw a team that is totally faithful to the cause throughout the team, with players who are prepared for the sacrifice,” stated O’Se, who also went on to single out Mark McHugh for his unselfishness and stated that Donegal are right up alongside Dublin, Cork and Kildare.
But Tom Conaghan has been quick to respond.
“My only advice to Jim (McGuinness) and the players is to be wary what them boys and the national media are saying about them. They are only jumping on the bandwagon now because they think Donegal are going to win something and I hope they do,” he warned.
The man who led Donegal to their first All-Ireland, the 1982 U-21 All-Ireland and the first manager to mastermind Donegal’s promotion to top flight football added, “I have no problem at all with Darragh O’Se; he was a fine footballer and he is entitled to his opinion and, by the way, I agree with much of what he says. But I do have a problem with Pat Spillane and Joe Brolly and what they say. Again I know they are entitled to their opinions but what they said last year about Donegal football was not nice and I thought Spillane, in particular, was way over the top in branding Donegal’s style, Shi’ite football.
“When Jim (McGuinness) was appointed manager he had a job to do and he had to work with the players he had. He also had to restore confidence after a few bad seasons in the championship.
“He did that last year and as he stated at the time, he hoped to move things on this year and work on the offensive side. He has done that and it is a case of so far so good. I thought Donegal showed great composure and no little skill on Saturday night against Derry and they certainly have stepped it up from last year. I do think they have developed into a serious team and I do agree they are serious contenders. But again I warn Jim and the players to keep their heads down and keep working away and don’t read too much into what is said about them. Games are never won in the paper no matter how they fancy you on the radio or television.”
Meanwhile, Donegal returned to training on Tuesday evening after their customary post match debriefing session on Sunday morning. They will train again tonight (Thursday) and again on both Saturday and Sunday as they step up preparations for the following Saturday’s semi-final meeting with Tyrone in Clones.