Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley sets sights on Ulster triumph
THE pre-Championship period is invariably packed with cautious clichés carefully wrapped in dull bland phrases.
Most managers consider opinions as dangerous luxuries that could come back to haunt players at some mysterious point “down the line”.
That's why it is refreshing when a player tells you straight out that he believes his county can win an Ulster title this year.
Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley may be in only his second full Championship season at the age of 27, but he is convinced that 2017 can be Tir Chonaill's year.
“It hurt a lot last year when we were leading for so long and with a few minute left, not to see it out,” he said.
“But we will not be thinking about that this year as we will be focusing on our performance and we know that if we can deliver on any given day that we will be very close.
“And I definitely think that there is an Ulster title in us.”
Mark Anthony is in the start of his third year with the squad having made his debut last year and serving a year under the inimitable Paul ‘Papa' Durcan.
As a youngster, he was awarded a soccer scholarship in Dublin that meant he couldn't play Gaelic football.
But after college, Mark Anthony returned to St Michael's and was spotted playing in a match against Kilcar in 2015 by Rory Gallagher and then got the call.
The 2016 Ulster final was his first big test and it came after a debut against Fermanagh last year where he got to see the mercurial Sean Quigley up close and personsal.
And the long and lean St Michael's man made it a memorable debut by saving a crucial penalty from Quigley just before half-time.
“He is a bit of a character and he fancied himself for the penalty, but luckily enough I guessed the right way,” he said.
That was a very vital save, as Neil McGee had just been sent off and Fermanagh would have turned over at halftime with a one- point lead, had Quigley been successful.
So did he say anything to the loquacious Quigley just before the big Roslea man lined up for the penalty?
“I had a wee word with him alright,” quipped Mark Anthony.
“I had watched a few penalties that he had taken and they were to my left.
“But he went for my right and luckily I went that way too.
‘It was great feeling and the main thing was to make sure that we went in at half time in the lead. We kicked on in the second half and won the match.”
Mark Anthony has been reasonably happy with his progress but realized that he has enormous shoes to fill.
“What can you say about Paul ‘Papa' Durcan, a multiple Allstar and All-Ireland winner?” he asked.
“He has multiple Ulster titles but it was great working with him for a year.
“It was just to see the way he prepared.
“It was the way he carried himself in training, he trained really very hard.
“He put 100 per cent into every drill and he was so professional in every drill.
“His kick outs were phenomenal and he had a way of striking them with the outside of the boot which demanded great precision.
“And he was there for a long time and it was great just to be working with them”.
So what does he know about Antrim?
“Not a lot, but Ulster is a very competitive place and they will carry their own threats.
“They have a lot of pace in their forward line and CJ McGourty gives them something extra.”
But McGinley then adds with some welcome candour: “But we will focus more on ourselves and we know that if we deliver a performance every day we go out we will not be far away from beating any team in the country”.
And Mark Anthony, who joined up in 2015, has now got the company of some younger skyscrapers from his own area of north- west Donegal.
“We have Michael Langan from our own club who is a big lad, a great striker of a ball and he has taken over striking the frees for the club from me.
“So he has robbed of that one and cost me a few points”, he quipped.
“But seriously Michael has a very good attitude like a lot of those other young lads and they have all had success at underage.
“Michael Carroll from Gaoth Dobhair and Jason McGee from Falcarragh are also big men and that is what you need now.
“That is just the way the game is going, you need big men to be able to compete.
“And they are also very athletic and you can see this in Dublin, Kerry and Mayo.
“Look at the size of David Moran. of Kerry. and Brian Fenton. of Dublin, who are two of the best midfielders in the country.
“They are big, can fetch ball and can shift as well, which is what you need.
“You need to be able to go both ways.”
So what have his younger colleagues brought to Donegal this year?
“They have really freshened things up with an enthusiasm and you can see the older boys getting excited and seeing how good these young lads are and the great potential that they have.
“That drives on the lads that have been there for a few years.
“And these young lads have all been successful and they have brought that into a group that has been successful.
“And that can only bode well for Donegal”.
So is there an Ulster title in this Donegal team?
His reply is welcomingly unequivocal.
“Yes I think so.
“This is my third year and I think we left two behind us in 2015 and last year. On our day I would not fear any team in the country.”