Friday 23 March 2018

New respect ends days of going 'down the town'

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IT IS a reputation they have been trying to shake for years, but the 'party-hard' Donegal footballers finally appear to be leaving their old ways behind.

Sick of underachievement and being seen as being too fond of a good time, Jim McGuinness has ushered in a new, disciplined era this season and the benefits have been clear for all to see.

The past decade has seen the county side threaten to do something major, only to fail to achieve what had been promised. Often, the following winter, the tales of mischief rose to the surface.

Brian McEniff managed to lead them to the promised land 19 years ago, delivering the county's one and only All-Ireland. Before and after, they have struggled to hit those heights.

The former boss -- a pioneer -- recalled yesterday how the lifestyle even impinged on his playing days almost 50 years ago.

"It's a much bandied thing in Donegal, discipline," he explained. "I can go back to the 1960s when we had an altercation before a National League semi-final against Longford in '66 when a couple of the lads went down the town.

"It wasn't the fact that they went down the town and had a pint or two, it was a breach of discipline -- but we just weren't good enough for Longford on the day."

The last time Donegal came across Dublin in the championship, a rousing late quarter-final comeback earned them a replay in 2002.

They saw the draw as cause for celebration and a number of the squad hit the town with such gusto that manager Mickey Moran had a lonely journey on the bus home, with a host of his squad opportunistically catching a plane home the next day.

Eleven days later, Ray Cosgrove and the Dubs blew them away. Season over, Moran resigned. A year on, with McEniff back in situ, they reached the semi-final -- but more problems.

Kevin Cassidy was dropped for the first-round qualifier against Longford but the defender bounced back and it was he who put that monstrous point over the bar to finally see off Kildare in this season's quarter-final.

With the exception of Kerry's disciplining of Tomas O Se and Colm Cooper in 2009, it has often seemed to be Donegal who had their off-field shenanigans highlighted.

McEniff calls it the players' predilection for going 'down the town'.

"In 2003 when I was manager they weren't easy to contain or control. I remember after the Tipperary match in Croke Park some of them wanted to go down the town.

Mickey Moran had quit because they had gone down the town. So I told them that if they weren't on the bus I was going on without them and leaving them behind. So they were on the bus.

"Jim earns respect by the level of commitment he gives. He's a 24-hours-a-day man dealing with players and his management of the team."

The lifestyle wasn't the only thing holding Donegal back, but it didn't help.

Tyrone, Armagh, Kerry and Cork were living by a code, preparing for the big days and delivering their best when needed. Donegal couldn't match it.

"After the Cork game two years ago I came out of Croke Park and said 'I'm not fit'," full-back Niall McGee said.

"Sometimes you couldn't go into a dressing-room and look men in the eyes. Now you can look every man in the eye.Sometimes you'd have been thinking that certain boys weren't doing it and other times I wouldn't have been doing it myself."

"We're usually sitting home at this stage of the year. We're not used to this, but it's the way that you want it."

Irish Independent

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