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McGuinness makes Donegal men feel invincible – McHugh



McGuinness makes Donegal men feel invincible – McHugh

The impact Jim McGuinness has had on Donegal fortunes cannot be disputed.

No Ulster SFC titles between the one he claimed in 1992 as a player and the first of three in four years as manager in 2011. A first All-Ireland title in two decades in 2012 and runners-up two years later.

Relegated from Division 1 of the Allianz Football League and eliminated from Ulster in the quarter-finals last year before a preliminary quarter-final exit to Tyrone under interim management.

Straight back up as Division 1 winners, Ulster champions (after beating Derry, Tyrone and then Armagh, on penalties) and now All-Ireland semi-finalists in the first year of his second spell in charge.

“If you compare it to this time last year it is completely night and day,” says 2012 All-Star Mark McHugh, whose brother Ryan was among the team that beat Louth by six points in the last eight.

“What Jim and the lads have done this year, it is completely 360 from where we were. Speaking to the lads from other counties, they are amazed, and we are all amazed, but then again, we shouldn’t be because of the man that is leading the ship.

“In the last number of years, we couldn’t follow them too far [into the championship]. They were beaten in the first round of Ulster by Down, it was disappointing.

“My own kids were looking at Kerry and Dublin, whatever, now they want to follow Donegal again. Their heroes are the Donegal players, not somebody else from another county.

“It is one man that has done all of this.”

Mark McHugh was speaking at the launch of AIB’s Volunteer VIP competition

How has he been able to effect such a dramatic turnaround?

“Jim McGuinness’ biggest strength, in my view, is that air of confidence and invincibility,” says McHugh.

“That is probably what he has instilled in them from day one, that they can play as well as anybody else.

“It’s a strange feeling but you go out on a football field and you just feel invincible. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You could pick the best 15 footballers of the last 20 years and put them in a team against Jim McGuinness’s side but if I’m on his team I’ll still think that I’m going to win that game easy. That’s an almighty feeling.

“I’ve obviously lost games with Jim but you’re thinking after ‘How the hell did we lose that? We just didn’t do A, B or C’. But when he sets out a plan and you follow it, you’re thinking ‘There’s no way we can lose this match’ and when you go to shake your opponent’s hand at the start, you know you’re going to beat him.

“I didn’t just think we were going to win games, I thought we were going to win games easily. It’s a real boost. You’re definitely one up on your opponent before you even step on a field.

“A good manager surrounds himself with good people and listens to different points of view. Back in our days he had different people at different stages and now he has Neil McGee, Colm McFadden, Marty Boyle, Luke Barrett. Those boys are all top-class coaches in their own right and very shrewd football people.”

Shane Walsh (R) and Damien Comer after Galway’s win over Dublin

Galway are favoured to spoil the fairy-tale at Croke Park on Sunday, after dethroning Dublin in the quarters.

But McHugh, who is coaching Galway club side Maigh Cuilinn this year, is confident McGuinness will have a plan for talents like Damien Comer and Shane Walsh, even if the latter is an injury doubt.

“From what I’ve seen from Jim McGuinness teams of the past is that they’ll target the strengths of the opposition and try to nullify them,” he says. “Then just focus on their own game.

“What we’ve seen of them, especially against Louth and Tyrone, is that their running game and fitness levels are to another level. Are Galway at that level of conditioning with the injuries they have sustained throughout the year? I would hope Donegal might have a wee advantage on them there.

“Brendan McCole has been given the tough jobs all year, Sam Mulroy, Shane McGuigan, Darragh Canavan, Conor Turbitt, Andrew Murnin. He’s probably going to get the job of Damien Comer.

“Somebody else will be tasked with marking Shane Walsh. But even if you have 20 men back in that defence, if you let him go off free he will create pockets of space and kick scores. If Donegal don’t mark him they’ll probably deserve to lose the game.

“Galway are a very defensive team. Sometimes they don’t use their physicality and their big men in the middle as well as they could. I’m not sure either game this weekend will be a spectacle but I still have hope. They will be tight for 15 or 20 minutes as teams feel each other out and then something will happen.”

Have the scales been tipped enough for Jimmy to keep winning matches?

“I would have Donegal very slight favourites, maybe 52-48%.

“Yes, we are in bonus territory, if you told us this time last year, we’d have bitten your hand off for it, but I’d imagine those lads aren’t happy with an All-Ireland semi-final. They’ll want to go a step further.”

Watch the All-Ireland Football Championship semi-finals, Armagh v Kerry (5.30pm on Saturday on RTÉ2) and Donegal v Galway (4pm on Sunday on RTÉ2).

Both games available on RTÉ Player. Follow a live blog on and the RTÉ News app and listen to commentary on RTÉ Radio 1

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