Not a waft of Ambre Solaire as Donegal start with intent in Laois

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Not a waft of Ambre Solaire as Donegal start with intent in Laois
When Celtic famously won the European Cup in 1967, their winger, the late Jimmy Johnstone, used to recall the scene for years afterwards.

When Celtic famously won the European Cup in 1967, their winger, the late Jimmy Johnstone, used to recall the scene for years afterwards.

As the Scottish champions and their final opponents, the mighty Inter Milan, stood in the tunnel before the match, Johnstone said the Italians were “all six-footers wi’ Ambre Solaire suntans, slicked-back hair and Colgate smiles.”

Twelve months ago this week, Donegal lost 2-14 to 1-13 against Kildare in their first appointment of the Allianz League.

There wasn’t so much as a shrug of the shoulders over the result as Jim McGuinness’s panel were in possession of both the Ulster and All-Ireland championships and had just returned from their end of season holiday in Dubai.

One sensed whether Kildare smelt the Ambre Solaire in Drumcondra, or, as Rory Kavanagh suggested this week: “the legs were still oiled.”

Winning Sam Maguire for only the second time ever was an achievement that had to be savoured for Donegal’s players and management.

More importantly than the multiple backslaps received after the triumph, the win opened a window of opportunism for a number of the players and indeed the manager McGuinness in terms of employment, endorsement and exposure.

The perception after Kildare was that Donegal would soon get down to the muck and gutter of pre-season training in a bid to defend their titles.

If Donegal learned anything from last year, it was that the candle cannot be burned at both ends.

A gruelling schedule, both on and off the pitch, meant McGuinness never had a fully fit panel. And if players were perceived to be fit, they certainly weren’t match fit. The season blew up in their faces.

A 16-point hammering by Mayo following McGuinness’s first provincial loss - in his 11th outing - against Monaghan, left Donegal at a crossroads.

They could either rest on their laurels of 2012 or simply return to brass tacts.

Donegal have a tight camp but whatever whispers were swirling suggested training was ultra-intense over the last couple of months.

On Sunday, we got our first real indicator of where Donegal are at when the Allianz League opened at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise.

Donegal’s winter workings showed how good a physical state the panel is in already. Laois was a far cry from Kildare and Croke Park.

In the end, a 2-19 to 1-9 win was an accurate reflection against the team managed by Tomás Ó’Flatharta.

While Sunday’s opponents were sub-standard, McGuinness can be very encouraged.

Christy Toye’s man of the match performance on his first outing - in league or championship - since the All-Ireland final was perhaps the highlight of the day.

Toye missed the entire calendar year of 2013 with trigeminal neuralgia, a rare nerve disorder. McGuinness made constant reference to the St Michael’s club man and a possible return.

But with Toye not even featuring in club football, it was feared that his waiting in line to lift Sam Maguire on the Hogan Stand Lower would be his last act in a Donegal jersey.

Toye was involved in 1-8 of the 2-12 Donegal had on the scoreboard in Portloaise when he was replaced on 52 minutes with a splattering of blood on his face by Martin O’Reilly.

Asides the experienced Toye, three of the younger faces in the panel - Ryan McHugh, Odhran MacNiallais and Hugh McFadden - acquitted themselves well.

McHugh, whose brother Mark had an excellent match linking defence and attack, was solid at corner-back.

MacNiallias can be delighted with his personal tally of a goal and a point, while in a perverse way it was pleasing to see McFadden from Killybegs ignore the option of his namesake Colm as he fired over his second point having come off the bench.

For the first time in 18 months, Donegal’s breaking game - so important in 2012 - was evident. The marauding defenders took up some industrious positions when coming from defence.

Seeing Donegal are considered in wider circles to be a team more reliant on defence, when the black card was rolled out, it was presumed that it would hinder a manager like McGuinness.

But it might suit him. McGuinness has always remarked that Donegal are coached to the rules.

For example, in the All-Ireland quarter-final, semi-final and final of 2012, Donegal picked up a sum total of three yellow cards.

With McGuinness’s team dependent on defenders running from deep, the black card rule could certainly make opposition sides think twice about blocking off those runs - something Monaghan and Mayo managed particularly well last summer.

Having conceded 3-18 from play against Meath, who also kicked 16 wides, Galway will have things to think about defensively against Donegal.

But having scored a healthy 4-11 in that loss in Navan, we could see an open match at Pearse Stadium on Sunday.

Donegal, though, should have enough to post a second win. And whatever about the Ambre Solaire, that would give us all a Colgate smile.