A COUPLE of days after Donegal got their Ulster championship off to a six-point winning margin last year manager against Antrim, Jim McGuinness said it wasn’t every day of the week you’d get such a healthy winning margin.
The knives were out in certain quarters after that spluttery win and expectations are of course a little higher for Donegal this year, seeing they’re defending Ulster champions - but a win is a win, especially in the awkward preliminary round.
There were positives and negatives for McGuinness following the 1-16 to 1-10 win over Cavan but as he said in the build-up to the game he didn’t expect everything would be perfect but hoped the attitude would be.
The positive was the fact Donegal weathered an early storm from the underdogs, refusing to panic and doing what was familiar to them, whether that was to nestle 13 men in defensive mode initially and then give them license to springboard into the attack.
On the flipside, Donegal let the intensity level drop toward the game’s end. Cavan scored more in the last 17 minutes - a goal and four points - than they had managed in the preceding 53. Eugene Keating scored five points from play and won a penalty off All-Star full-back Neil McGee.
“Cavan caused us problems and we expected that,” McGuinness told the huddle of print media after doing the broadcast analysis. “We put up 1-7 and took the game to Cavan in the first half. There was a good attitude in the group. In terms of negatives we let that intensity drop and were a little ponderous on the ball, taking things for granted. Those bits and pieces certainly set in towards the last 15 or 20 minutes.
“When you’re working on things you want to execute it. A lot of things in the second half - we weren’t ruthless and 20 minutes out there was a feel of a challenge match for a period. We weren’t clinical. If we were professional from the first minute till the last we wouldn’t have gone down that road.”
Donegal, though, were playing themselves as much as they were playing Cavan. McGuinness’s team have their own pre-requisites and only for a time in Breffni Park did they reach those targets. But some of the shortcoming were forgivable and McGuinness will look forward now to the group dynamics of the summer as the students of the panel return to the north-west.
“It’s May 20th and it’s the first day out,” he added. “We’ve a game under our belt and a home game to come. We’re trying to move the thing forward on all levels. Not all games are played offensively and not all games are played defensively either.
“There’s a lot of things that have to happen for an overall good performance to come together. For periods today we got what we wanted, whether it was Cavan or anyone else. The boys are realistic.
“It’s irrelevant who we play and we gauge ourselves against what we want to do. It was Cavan today and it’ll be Derry the next day and then it’ll be Tyrone or Armagh, if we get through, the game after that. What we need to do is get our own house in order. It really is about ourselves, how we see the opposition and how we see it unfold.”
Donegal will have more complicated afternoons at the office but they’re off and running in their title defence. The lopsided nature of the draw, with Tyrone or Armagh now awaiting the winner’s of Donegal and Derry, means it won’t be easy - not that it was 12 months ago.
“It was difficult last year too,” McGuinness added with a grin. “Nobody is ever going to give you an easy draw in Ulster. For us, it’s job done today and it buys us now another month and we will have the boys home from college and we coach them now as a group. We’re further down the line than last year.
“We’re more composed and more mature about the whole thing. We’re together and are trying to move it forward on the footballing side of things.”
McGuinness has a few creases to iron then, but a win is a win. That’s alright for starters.