Ulster strength its biggest weakness, says McGuinness
Published 11/05/2011 | 05:00
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has thrown his weight behind the relevance of the provincial championship by suggesting Ulster is the most "valuable" to win.
McGuinness feels there isn't a Donegal player in his squad who wouldn't "give their right arm" to win an Ulster title and end a barren spell for the county that is into its 19th season.
The newly crowned Division 2 league champions begin their Ulster championship campaign at home to Antrim on Sunday in the province's preliminary round.
And McGuinness has once again raised the issue of provincial imbalances by suggesting that more Ulster teams would win All-Ireland titles if the competition was run off on an open draw.
In McGuinness' opinion, the cut-throat nature of the Ulster championship is such that it can harm prospects of an All-Ireland title further down the line. In essence, it is the best province to win, but also the most damaging.
"It (Ulster) is a very difficult championship to win. You can't say that I am going to train for 10 weeks at the end of the league and start off with an easy first-round game and then go into a semi-final that is a decent game and then play a final and that is the game that you have to win," he reflected.
"We have to be ready for Antrim and if we are not ready for Antrim, we are dumped. That is the long and the short of it.
"That brings pressure and that brings pressure to the opposition. Every single game in the preliminary and first rounds of the Ulster championship will be contested and contested heavily, so all of a sudden the game itself becomes a game of margins."
He feels the difference between what Ulster teams face by comparison to their counterparts in Connacht and Munster is significant.
"You can't time a run in it or you will get dumped. From our perspective, the Munster championship would not bring that, the Connacht championship would not bring that and I suppose the Leinster championship has come up in recent years," he said.
"It is a decent championship now but predominantly it would have been Dublin and Meath and if they were on opposite sides of the draw they normally met (in the final).
"It is a totally different ball game and it is not in the advantage of Ulster, of the Ulster teams, because it is so competitive in relation to winning All-Irelands.
"If there was an open draw I think that there are a lot of quality teams in Ulster they would better in terms of winning All-Irelands because such is the competitive nature of the provincial championship."
McGuinness envies the time that teams in some of the other provinces have to prepare between their last league and their first championship games.
"If you finish the league and you have got eight weeks to prepare, the amount of work that you can get through in eight weeks, you own the players," said McGuinness, who has added Eamonn McGee and the talented minor Daniel McBrearty to his squad.
"They are playing for their club on a Sunday and you have them Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for seven or eight weeks. The bond that you can build in that situation, the will-to-win spirit that you can foster as well as tactical work are enormous.
"That is phenomenal preparation and you are peaking for one game, maybe two games, and that simply does not happen in Ulster. I don't think that there is one county that would take anyone else for granted and that is just the nature of it.
"We are definitely not trying to peak for the Ulster final. If we had reached the last five Ulster finals, we might be thinking that way.
"Kerry and Cork are peaking for the August Bank Holiday weekend and we are peaking for May 15 (the Antrim game). You have got June and July before you get to that date in the calendar. It is different preparation."