Wednesday, January 16, 2013
McKenna Cup put to bed, now its back to Croker
The McKenna Cup has been put to bed for another year and now Donegal can firmly focus on training and catching up with the rest of the country in the fitness stakes.
The experimentation continued in tonight’s final game of the competition with John O’Malley and Eoin McHugh making their debuts while Adi O’Gara, Pauric Carr and Michael Cannon, after brief cameos in the previous games, all made their first starts. O’Malley is well known for his senior exploits with Naomh Conaill and is likely destined for many more games in the county jersey. A huge honour too was bestowed on the Cloich Cheann Fhaola club, with Kevin McFadden skippering the All-Ireland Champions.
The fact that a 3rd level side, in the form of Belfast teaching college St Marys, were the opposition meant Donegal’s newcomers enjoyed a bit more of a level playing field than in the previous exploits against Fermanagh and Monaghan. The lads were quick out of the blocks with Odhran MacNiallais doing the damage early on. The students found their feet though and in a high scoring affair they led by a point at the break.
Caolan Ward and Kevin McFadden again impressed and with both players having played in different positions over the course of the competition, their versatility could be an asset to both Maxi Curran’s U21s and possibly Jim McGuinness' senior squad.
The high scoring continued after the change of ends; Donegal went on a scoring spree with five unasnwered points before Marys pegged it back to make it all square. There was some confusion between the score the referee had noted and that of the MacCumhaill Park scoreboard but in the end the record books will show a one point win for the hosts.
The GAA season now goes up a notch with Kildare providing our next opponents in the league opener and it gives supporters an early opportunity to go back to the Graceland of Croke Park and relive some of those wonderful memories from September. From a playing point of view, following the switch of venue for the clash, it will do McGuinness’ troops no harm playing at Headquarters as opposed to Conleth’s Park in Newbridge - the players are obviously well used to it and any opportunity to play at the Mecca of football can only benefit a team.
Jim spoke at the weekend of the training the team are undertaking now that their holiday is firmly in the past - Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are all training days and the players will be glad to get back to the group dynamic and getting themselves prepared for what lies ahead.
Last year McGuinness along with Adam Speer and the rest of the coaching staff got the entire panel in incredible shape and in our best moments of the Championship other teams simply couldn’t live with our relentless stamina. 2011 was a case of getting the players up to a decent level of fitness based on the individual needs of each player. Last year however, to a man the squad was operating at close to peak condition - bringing them back up to that level again while also managing the niggles and knocks, and a serious hip injury in Karl Lacey’s case, is the target over the next few months.
Another goal of the management team will be to try to blend in those players who have shown well in this McKenna Cup campaign and there will be a few with an eye on at least a training spot with the panel and possibly more.
It is critical for any team that wins the All-Ireland to have competition for places and to avoid having players resting on their laurels. Someone breathing down the neck of a man in possession of a Celtic Cross should drive him on to win another one.
That’s all well in the future of course, for now its well done to the boys who’ve represented the jersey over the past week and all roads lead to Croker in a couple of weeks time.