When Waterford were described in the wake of the Allianz Hurling League Division victory earlier this month as “the Donegal of hurling,” selector Dan Shanahan didn’t appreciate the comparison.
“Some people say we’ve gone Donegal,” Shanahan said afterwards. “That’s total bullshit, to be honest. Our lads are just working. If they see a fella in trouble, they’ll go out and hunt and they’ll block.”
Donegal’s reputation at this stage probably goes before them. Jim McGuinness is remembered more vividly in some quarters as the man who played 14 men behind the ball in losing the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final to Dublin 0-8 to 0-6 than the man whose Donegal side won Sam Maguire a year later or posted 3-14 against the Dubs in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“It doesn’t surprise me in a way that people don’t give Donegal the credit for what they have achieved,” Donegal forward David Walsh said. “Still though I’d say, any player would like to win an All-Ireland and I’m sure Dan Shanahan would have loved to have won with Waterford as well.
“It’s that typical thing where in 2012 Donegal were All-Ireland champions and went on to have a poor year in 2013. This happened through injury and players had given a lot to the cause for two years before that.
“All of a sudden, we were maybe wiped off and not considered one of the top teams in Ireland any more just because of one bad result against Mayo in the 2013 quarter-final [which the Connacht champions won 4-17 to 1-10].”
Donegal’s eldest panellist at 33, Walsh is one of the experienced players in the set-up whose memories run deeper than the three Ulster SFC titles and All-Ireland title claimed during McGuinness’s four-year tenure, which concluded after the 2-9 to 0-12 All-Ireland final loss to Kerry.
Walsh was one of the previous generation, who are commonly referred to as “the likeable losers” — a side that failed to win a single match in Ulster from 2007 to 2011.
The last of those losses, when Down came from behind to defeat John Joe Doherty’s Donegal 1-15 to 2-10 in extra-time in 2010, illustrates why Donegal needed to change their approach under McGuinness and continue those procedures with new manager Rory Gallagher.
“I think back to Down in 2010 when they won in extra-time and went on to the All-Ireland final,” Walsh added. “There wasn’t too many game plans in our structure then, not a system that we play now with help from the forwards and whatever.
“We always knew there was talent there, but we just needed guidance and Jim gave us that guidance. It’s up to us to keep that going now and Rory has brought in fresh ideas to help the matter.”
Meanwhile Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan is doubtful for Sunday’s Ulster SFC opener against Donegal, writes Francis Mooney. Morgan is struggling with a groin problem. Should Morgan fail to make it, Mickey O’Neill is likely to start against Donegal.
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