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We have never talked about defending All-Ireland: McGuinness

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Mark McHugh. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Mark McHugh. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Mark McHugh. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

JIM McGUINNESS always strikes you as a manager who is one step ahead of the posse. Constantly dreaming up tactical schemes to scupper the opposition – maybe even thinking two or three matches down the line to some likely knockout collision with a heavyweight rival in August. Or September.

Except that this is not how the Donegal manager operates. So the man himself insists.

So when you ask him if injuries can prove the biggest impediment to a team seeking to defend Sam Maguire, McGuinness counters: "Not really, like. We hadn't got Michael (Murphy) for a long period last year; he didn't play in the first championship match.

"It's just part and parcel of every season. You just hope you can keep as many of them healthy for as long as possible, but we don't think about defending the All-Ireland anyway."

Then, focussing in on Sunday's Ulster semi-final date in Breffni Park, he expands: "The only thing that's ahead of us is Down.

"That gives us a chance to go to the Ulster final and that's where our focus is at. We've never talked once about defending the All-Ireland. We've never once talked about defending the Ulster championship. It's about what's ahead of us.

RECALIBRATE

"For the last six months what was ahead of us was Tyrone and that's where our focus was; and now we've got to recalibrate and get ready for Down.

"It's a model, it's very simplistic, but it has worked well for us and we won't be changing.

"You could go down that road and think to yourself there is pressure on us to go back-to-back; but that pressure wasn't on us to go back-to-back last year, it was just about winning matches. And then the results take care of themselves after that."

It sounds almost easy, but you know that Donegal's results only "take care of themselves" because so much preparatory work has gone into finessing the end product.

That said, Donegal had six months to prepare for Tyrone – and just four weeks for Down.

"Ah well, you have to be flexible," McGuinness explains. "This last two years we had only two weeks to focus on Tyrone ... so it was a sharp turnaround.

"But that's why you have got to try and keep your ear to the ground in terms of what all the other teams are doing, how they are playing their football, styles of play that are involved – so when the next game comes up, you are half-ready for it. I think that's what all the managers are doing."

Meanwhile, Mark McHugh returns to the Donegal starting team for Sunday's game.

The fit-again All Star resumes in his trademark roving wing-forward role, with Ryan Bradley reverting to midfield in the injury-enforced absence of Neil Gallagher (knee), while Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey is also sidelined after micro-surgery to his knee.

Down boss James McCartan is sticking with the 15 which stormed back to quarter-final victory over Derry.

DONEGAL (SF v Down): P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Bradley, R Kavanagh; David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.

DOWN (SF): B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn; D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle; K King, K McKernan; A Rogers, M Poland, N Madine; C Laverty, B Coulter, D O'Hare.


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