If your mantelpiece was as cluttered as Karl Lacey’s presumably is then it would be easy to let your mind drift back on some of the achievements of yesteryear.
The 27-year-old become only the second Donegal man ever, after Martin McHugh, to become a three-time All-Star last autumn, as well as being named as Ulster GAA Writer’s and Irish News Player of the Year following his typically impressive season from centre-back.
For someone as consistent as Lacey has been in a county jersey, having first joined the panel in 2004 as a teen, the awards just keep stacking up.
But Lacey shyly admits he spends little time thinking about last year and is even occasionally ill at ease when pressed to recall his recollections of 2011.
Of course, he maintains his mannerly stance and shares a couple of his thoughts but emphasis continually meanders back to what’s on the horizon, the Ulster championship opener againsr Cavan on Sunday.
“It meant everything, but that’s in the back of our heads now,” the Four Masters clubman says of last season. “The present day is the same as it was this day last year.
“We’re not thinking about Ulster championships, what we have or don’t have, it’s a brand new championship. At the minute, we’re just like the other eight counties in Ulster. We want to win it and at this stage everyone has a chance. Last year has to be forgotten about now.”
The sight of a man as fit as Lacey wobbling at the knees following the epic quarter-final win over Kildare last July, after winning the ball to set up the move that led to Kevin Cassidy’s winning point in the depths of extra-time, shows the commitment of this Donegal panel.
Those well-versed romantic notions of Donegal being a pretty football team down the years but also pretty easy to beat when push came to shove were re-hashed as the style showed significant alteration.
Lacey believes the change in approach has helped the team develop to their more lofted status, although it’s a process that’s still ongoing.
“We need to get some ruthlessness in big games when it really matters,” he says. “We had a wee bit against Kildare last year, but it’s maybe the consistency of it that we have to find. It’s something we’ll work on. You need that to get up there competing with Kerry, Cork and Dublin, who went through that phase too before they got their All-Ireland. It took them a few years and it just doesn’t happen over one season.”
With Michael Murphy definitely out for Kingspan Breffni Park with lateral ligament damage to his knee and uncertainty over other experienced players like Neil Gallagher and Christy Toye, who both have Achilles complaints, as well as the hamstrung Eamon McGee, manger Jim McGuinness would’ve been delighted to learn of Lacey’s fitness.
He hobbled off with a hamstring strain in an All-County League Division One match against Ardara and was forced to miss the challenge match against Mayo in Swinford two weeks ago, a game that was played in memory of the late Letterkenny-based Garda Robbie McCallion.
“I probably came back and started training on it too soon,” Lacey says of his injury. “I had a set-back two weeks ago so have been nursing it since. I need to watch it. It’s in the back of my mind, but it feels grand. I’m not 100 per cent, but I will be by the time the games comes around.
“I was hoping to get that challenge game in against Mayo last week. I haven’t played now since the Armagh match. It mightn’t seem that long and at times you might think you’re better resting, but I felt at training there that I’m a wee bit behind the pace. It’ll come. If we get over Cavan we have a good wee break until the next one.”
Getting over Cavan is the immediate priority. The next one, Derry should Donegal progress, just like all those awards at home, can fill the vacuum of thought some other time. For now, Lacey realises the enormity of the journey Donegal must take.
Last season Donegal became only the second team in 66 years - after Armagh in 2005 - to win the Ulster championship from the preliminary round. The luck of the draw last October meant this term’s path will be a familiar one.
“It would be something special,” Lacey said of possible succesive titles. “I don’t think any team has done it from the preliminary round back-to-back. It was hard last season coming in to win Ulster from where we were coming from, but this is a different year.
“Cavan have nothing to lose really. They had a bit of trouble at the start of the year, but they have a new man in now and he has had a good record at U-21 level. They’ll be out all guns blazing.
“Training has been going well and we’re looking forward to putting it into practice. That’s obviously the target for us. We know the winning feeling now and what winning an Ulster Championship was like. That hopefully will stand to us. It would be great to win it again this year.”