Friday 15 December 2017

Close book on literary spat

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

LAST Tuesday, as Pat Gilroy was throwing apples in the air on Moore Street to mark the launch of a book celebrating Dublin's All-Ireland triumph, his Donegal counterpart Jim McGuinness was tossing responses around in his mind as he contemplated the contents of another book.

He was concerned with the section dealing with Donegal's season, specifically what he regarded as a breach of trust by Kevin Cassidy in releasing details from inside the dressing-room.

McGuinness had a choice of whether to ignore or confront it, with the first option a clear winner under the 'anything for a quiet life' heading.

However, the man who reconfigured Donegal's DNA this year doesn't want a quiet life. He had transformed them from game adventurers who leaked too easily, to steely practitioners of a defensive system which saw them concede an average of just 8.8 points in six championship games against Antrim, Cavan, Tyrone, Derry, Kildare and the eventual, champions Dublin.

In devising such a sophisticated security system and -- equally importantly -- conveying it to the squad so they were able to implement it, McGuinness displayed innovative thinking.

His game plan, high on ball retention and wraparound movement, drew criticism but so what? Far too often over the years, Donegal were happy little entertainers, all busy and bubbly, but who hadn't enjoyed the last laugh since 1992.

If McGuinness was prepared to reinvent Donegal's approach, it was hardly surprising he didn't take the easy option when one of his players broke what he regarded as the sacred code of dressing-room privacy.

He won't expect any support from the media since there's always a fascination as to what goes on behind the scenes but, in the interests of fairness, that shouldn't be used as an excuse to portray McGuiness as a control freak.

Indeed, he must be wondering how he finds himself in this position in the first place.

Flick back to last Tuesday and the contrasting positions of Gilroy and McGuinness. Gilroy's return for another 12 months, at least, was formally announced on the previous night and as the credits continue to roll for this season's achievements, his football world is a pretty happy place right now.

Meanwhile, McGuinness is caught in a controversy at a time of year when inter-county squads aren't even allowed to train together.

How unlikely is that?

And how even more unlikely would it be if Donegal had won the All-Ireland?

Indeed, it might all have been so different if Colm McFadden realised how much room he had in front of the Dublin goal just after half-time in the All-Ireland semi-final, when Donegal were two points ahead.

He pointed to put them three clear but the goal chance was certainly on. In the context of that game, a five-point lead would have been massive.

Shortly afterwards, Donegal lost Karl Lacey to injury so in the space of a few minutes, two game-turning incidents had gone against them. Two months on, Dublin are bathed in glory's warm glow while Donegal are caught up in a damaging row.

Nobody knows if Donegal would have beaten Kerry, but they would have had a chance.

Dressing-room secrets don't matter for All-Ireland champions.


It's different when a team comes up short, so it's understandable McGuinness wouldn't be happy that what he regarded as private dressing-room affairs should be made public. It's understandable too that he would take action.

And while it might appear drastic to remove Cassidy from the panel, McGuinness has asserted authority in the most demonstrable fashion possible.

McGuinness will, of course, attract plenty of criticism, but it's unlikely to worry him.

As the controversy rages on, it's important to remember one salient fact. We are still just shy of mid-November, almost three months away from the start of the Allianz Leagues and more than six months off the start of the championship.

Making the front and back pages in a week when the Ireland soccer team were preparing for one of their most important games for a long time isn't exactly where you would expect a GAA county team to be but, if it's to happen, it's surely the best time of year.

Once the initial heat subsides, the forces of peace and reconciliation are likely to begin working quietly behind the scenes in Donegal.

McGuinness has made his point, while Cassidy insists he has no case to answer. Not much middle ground is visible right now but, as with all disputes, it only tends to emerge once the initial pressure is off. And that usually happens in private.

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