Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness, was disconcerted after Donegal’s draw with Dublin relegated them to Division 2 football next year, but he did not wish to be drawn on the controversial refereeing of replacement referee, Michael Duffy.
Victories for Kerry and Mayo, over Tyrone and Cork respectively, meant that Donegal had to win to retain their Division 1 status. However, Paul Mannion secured a draw for Dublin with a point in the 73rd minute, and sent Donegal to the second tier next Spring.
Donegal had been four points ahead with 20 minutes left, but they surrendered their advantage. McGuinness was clearly disappointed with how the afternoon unfolded.
“Lots of things were going on there in the last 15 minutes, and it had a major impact on the game, and they have relegated us as a result. I’m very proud of the players and the way they played; we did enough to win the game and we should have won the game, but we haven’t won the game.”
The referee, Padraig Hughes, had to be replaced at the start of the second half, when he picked up an injury. Stand-by referee, Michael Duffy, took hold of the whistle for the remainder with the game; and came in for a significant amount of criticism from the Donegal crowd at the end of the match, after denying Rory Kavanagh a penalty.
McGuinness refused to comment on Duffy’s performance or the penalty claim: “I don’t have a take on it, I don’t talk about referees. I’m sure the cameras were here today; they will have seen what went on and everyone else can make their decision on it.”
The Glenties man was adamant from the beginning of the season, that survival in Division 1 was the primary aim of the league campaign. However, he said that it will not be a disadvantage for Donegal to play in Division 2 next year.
“It’s not the end of the world for us. It actually doesn’t make a difference. We don’t really like the league to be honest. We tried to ease the players down a bit, and bring them back up and get them fresh for the championship, and have them ready for the summer time. It’s very hard to balance that with winning games in the league particularly in Division 1, so it’s not a big issue for us,” said McGuinness.
“Division 2 will be a little easier on us, in terms of the opposition we will be playing. It will give us a chance to roll out our annual plan a lot easier than we would have this year and last year. That’s the balancing act we were doing. We had no problem with that, and we have no problem with being relegated anyway, it’s just the manner of it, how it unfolded,” he added.
Injuries to key players, particularly in the back-line, hampered Donegal’s league campaign, but McGuinness was upbeat about the performances of some of the new players who have featured throughout the league.
“Every team in the country has injuries, and you have to deal with that. We haven’t got the biggest squad in the world, but you have to deal with injuries. Our under 21s are going very well, and two or three of them came in and did very well for us, and we also found Ross Wherity, and Ryan McHugh and Luke Keaney today.
“We have Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Karl Lacey, David Walsh, and Christy Toye all on the way back, so when those five are added into the championship squad, we should have a decent squad for the summer,”
Donegal began their championship training last Tuesday night, and the players have faced three tough training sessions this week, which McGuinness says will stand to the players in the coming weeks.
“We trained on Tuesday, we trained on Thursday and we trained yesterday (Saturday). We lost Colm (McFadden) to cramp and that was probably as a result of the training this week. But we decided that was the date we were going to start and build towards the summer,” he said.
“It always will be about the summer for us. We’ve had a very good week and even today’s game will be a big help to us. That’s four really good sessions for us, they played with a lot of intensity and pace today. It was a good week’s work for us, and we have another seven of those coming up now.”
Donegal’s next competitive game will be that much publicised clash with Tyrone on May 26th, and McGuinness is hoping that Donegal will be back to their best for the eagerly-awaited contest.
“It’s a very important game for us. We’re at home, there’s going to be a massive crowd and it’s going to be a massive occasion. Tyrone are going to be at full-tilt and hopefully at that stage, so will we.”