BY their own independent and separate admissions over the weekend, the respective Donegal and Kerry managers Jim McGuinness and Jack O’Connor had a feeling they’d be seeing one another sooner or later.
This coming Sunday, the two counties will meet in the championship for the very first time ever and perhaps it’s the past masters against the most recent upstarts. It’s an example of nature against nurture in coloured jerseys.
Donegal have won successive Ulster championships for the first time in their peculiar history and McGuinness is being heralded a revolutionary.
Last year, his first in charge, Donegal were shored up at the back but that system has since evolved into the blueprint for progressive thought in Gaelic football.
Essentially, it’s a version of Total Football, the famed Dutch concept that came to fruition in the 1970s masterminded by Rinus Michels and implemented by Johan Cryuff, where, amid other things, any particular outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. It’s a form of socialism on a football pitch.
Last year Donegal were scoffed for having forwards like Ryan Bradley, Mark McHugh and even Michael Murphy, who were men with the innate ability to defend and cover, while this year’s procedures have seen the system blossom.
The energy shown by players like Frank McGlynn, Declan Walsh, Karl Lacey and Anthony Thompson springing forward at will is the easiest alteration you can see from the surface.
Players are never far from the ball and the team’s layout can contract and expand like the healthy lungs of the ultra-fit players needed to operate within it.
“We knew it was only one from three and we’d a fair idea it would’ve been them so it’s just another team we have to play,” McGuinness said on Sunday in Convoy in regards the draw.
Kerry at Croke Park is undoubtedly the biggest challenge McGuinness’s Donegal have faced to date.
After a 0-17 to 0-12 Munster championship loss to Cork in June, Kerry came around the outside and developed a steamy head with wins over Westmeath, Tyrone and then Clare in the qualifiers.
Kerry don’t line out in as traditional a manner as they might like you to believe and have even adapted from time to time to the Ulster way of thinking. But their forwards - especially Declan O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy - are as capable as any side in the county of unhinging Donegal.
“You have to say Kerry’s greatest threat is the quality of their
forward line,” McGuinness added.
“It’s going to big a big challenge. That’s what you expect at this
stage of the competition. You’re in the last eight and you can’t
expect an easy draw. We want to travel down positive. We’re coming up against a very good team.”
Paul Galvin was sent off in the 2-22 to 1-6 win over Clare in Limerick on Saturday, but is free to play as his dismissal came after two yellow cards. He’ll be a vital player to flank Donegal’s charge from deep.
“Funny enough I had a sneaky feeling we would get Donegal,” Kerry manager O’Connor said at the Gaelic Grounds.
“Maybe I should start backing horses but I said a week ago we would get Donegal. It will be a great challenge for us. Jim McGuinness has a fantastic system going there.
“There are an absolutely serious team and it will be a great challenge for us to try and plan our strategy for them. They have certainly moved the goalposts in terms of strategy in football in the last couple of years.
“I haven’t been watching them that closely but they have been very impressive to date and put Down away fairly handily in the Ulster final so they will be very determined.”
After their respective green and gold histories, Donegal and Kerry will finally meet. All Jim McGuinness and Jack O’Connor are concentrating on is not what history did or didn’t bring, but what the future might.