Life as an inter-county footballer can be dull as dishwater at times with drinking bans, diet and training dictating your lifestyle on a weekly basis.
You’d be living like a monk for a month ahead of a championship game, so you’d have big blowout that Sunday. Which would be followed by what we’d call a ‘Monday club’ before heading back to training the following day.
That’s how most teams would’ve done it, but Donegal were different to put it mildly. I’m pally with a few of their former lads, so I’ve heard first-hand the kind of madness they’d have been getting up to.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 14, 2017
Monday Club? They’d have Tuesday and Wednesday clubs with lads missing training and turning up to video sessions half cut.
They’d be scouring the county for early houses and travelling out to the airport to get a few scoops, when nowhere else was serving.
You’d hear about them gallivanting around dressed like superheroes and even hopping on a bus to Dublin for a few days on the session. It was absolutely crazy, but a part of me would’ve loved to have been on that squad.
Every team has got their party animals and eccentric ones – sure I was one of ours – but they seemed to have a whole team! When none of the older lads were reigning in the madness then a manager was always going to be fighting a losing battle.
We all knew they were fond of the drink and every time we played them it was always a tight game – up until the last 15 minutes when we’d blow them away.
I genuinely don’t think they believed that they could beat us until Jim McGuinness came along and gave them self-belief, confidence and most importantly a game plan.
The New Donegal
McGuinness’ side always would’ve played defensively, while countering with explosive bursts in attack.
When Rory Gallagher took over he tried to emulate this system with the same players and I think it was a bit naïve on his part.
When you have older players and the legs are gone playing in that manner is always going to be difficult. I know that all too well now as my head is forever cashing cheques that my body is bouncing when I take to the field.
You can’t expect lads in their mid-thirties to be bombing up and down the field every game for the full 70 minutes.
A lot was made of all the Donegal retirements ahead of the National League this year, with a lot of pundits predicting the demise of the county at the top level.
I was thinking the total opposite and I’ve no doubt that they’re better now than they were this time last year. Gallagher’s learned that he needs fresh blood to execute his game plan and he’s done brilliantly to freshened up the squad.
He now has a team full of young cubs, full of running, more suited to his game plan and he’s integrated them well amongst the more experienced players.
It’s great to see young players coming through and every lad playing underage will get a huge boost in confidence from the way he’s managing the team.
Whoever loses this game will be turfed into the Qualifiers, but that mightn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Back in 2005, we played eight games to win the All-Ireland and it was the most enjoyable season of football that I ever had.
You’re not always training, you’re resting and playing games. Ask any player and he’ll tell you that he wants to play as many matches in front of the big crowds and on the big stage as he can.
You can build huge momentum going through the Qualifiers and they could be of massive benefit in the long run to whichever team ends up on the losing side this Sunday.
Last year this game was defensive, but I reckon we’re going to see a more open game this time around. Donegal are a serious team, however they’re not at the stage of their development yet where they can beat a team like Tyrone.
I’m going to opt for my home county by a couple of points.