Eugene McGee: History shows it's pointless to talk up Donegal dominance
Published 02/10/2012 | 11:43
There is an annual ritual that takes place around this time of year after a team has made a particularly big impact in winning the Sam Maguire Cup. Because first impressions are so important in sport, there is a tendency to overplay the long-term prospects of the winning team, and we have had a classic example of this in the past week.
Jim McGuinness and his team have been rightly lauded from on high, and many commentators have openly forecast that there must be a good chance of them winning three All-Irelands in a row because of the fact that it has taken only two years to manufacture the present Donegal team to its present very high level of efficiency.
This is in contrast to the fact that most All-Ireland winners that usually come from a team built up over three years at least -- and often much longer, as in the case of Dublin last year, who took about seven years.
Alas, for all these potential fortune tellers, their predictions generally dissipate into thin air.
For example, only once in the past 21 years has a county managed to retain the Sam Maguire Cup -- Kerry triumphed in 2006 and 2007.
In that time, we have seen many outstanding teams who were predicted to do at least a double but failed.
Most notably, there was the outstanding Tyrone team of the past decade which seemed capable of winning three in a row but never even got two in succession.
Last year we were told that the future of the Dublin football team was very bright and more All-Irelands were on their way, but perhaps the long-delayed decision of Pat Gilroy to stay on as manager was the first indication that there might be no double for the Dubs.
Cork, having struggled so long to win their All-Ireland in 2010, were expected to at least make it a double with that ever-present reputation of having 'the best set of footballers in Ireland'.
They might have had that, but they did not have a great team when Mayo beat them last year. So are Donegal really any better than all those other very good All-Ireland winners? Truth is we cannot say right now.
Donegal transformed their basic structure of play from 2011 to 2012 by about 50pc in order to change from the black sheep of Gaelic football to their current pinnacle of achievement.
The possibility that they could make a similar transformation in the next 12 months is what inspires the outburst of euphoria for the coming season.
It may well happen, but McGuinness knows that some of the parameters that were the foundation of this year's triumph may not be as easy to replicate next year.
He cannot be sure that every panel member will be as savagely motivated on a personal level as this year or that the ravenous appetite every player had for more and more training will apply across the board in the year that lies ahead.
And, of course, the biggest threat to a double or treble will be the opposing teams.
The qualifiers have made it easier to do a double of course, but that still leaves many county managers who are not very far behind McGuinness in their studies and thinking on the modern game, and they will spend many long hours poring over DVDs until they know Donegal players better than they know or understand their own.
The Donegal style is very clear and there is little in it that cannot be adopted by others or in some aspects counter-acted by them.
That is the biggest test for Jim McGuinness in 2012, but based on the recent past he may well be up for that challenge too.