GAA Football

Paul McGonigle says Donegal are keeping their focus ahead of Fermanagh clash

Donegal manager Declan Bonner together with assistant manager Paul McGonigle, coach Gary Boyle and selector Stephen Rochford before the McKenna Cup match against Queens at Ballybofey on Sunday December 30 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Gerry McLaughlin

WHEN Donegal assistant Paul McGonigle is asked to identify Fermanagh’s specific strengths and threats ahead of Sunday’s Ulster SFC clash with the Ernemen, he firmly bats away the question.

“I think the biggest threat will come from ourselves and it is about what we want to do,’’ he said.

“I think you can over-analyse teams and maybe we did that earlier in the season.”

The Buncrana man says the county’s sole focus is on getting a performance that will be successful.

“Of course, Fermanagh will present a number of challenges and I am not going to detail them because we will be focusing on our own performance and on the things that we can control.”

When asked if last year’s easy Ulster final victory over Fermanagh might have any bearing on this weekend’s Brewster Park tie, he is emphatic.

“The circumstances are completely different,” he said.

“We take every Championship on its own merits and this is going to be a very difficult task.

“Any team that has to travel away for its first game will find challenges.

“We had the benefit of three games before last year’s final, but this year is totally different.

“We have played Fermanagh a lot in recent times it is our fourth match against them, and the players all know each other well and, of course, Rory Gallagher knows all about Donegal.

“They have a good record and our sole focus is on Sunday.”

He equally dismissed the notion that the League defeat to Fermanagh would have any impact on the duel in Brewster.

“Totally different, the League is for preparing for the Championship,” he said.

“That was back in February and we won’t dwell on it too long and we have more experienced players back now and there are not too many lessons to be learned from that match.”

McGonigle also hit out at “negative” talk about football, ahead of Sunday’s crunch clash with neighbours Fermanagh.

“There was a lot of negative talk about football in Ulster and generally last year which I cannot fathom,” he said.

“If you look at the top teams in the country it is all about getting scores. If you look at Corofin – you must look for scores.

“I don’t think football has gone backwards at all.

“I think the scores have improved and the fitness is improving.

“I think the skills have improved, as has the spectacle, [but] there has been a lot of negative talk.

“I can’t see where this is coming out of and if you look at teams that are competing for Championships, they are racking up big scores as the game has become more offensive.”

Last Sunday’s Armagh v Down thriller will have certainly weakened any negative argument about Ulster football, while Donegal racked up big scores in convincingly winning last year’s Ulster Championship.

“When you have the ball, you must be looking to score, that is the way to do it and people are talking about too much emphasis on having the ball. But if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score,” said McGonigle.

“The game has evolved, and I think the really skilful players are making a big difference and make the big decisions.”

But on Sunday, it will be all about Donegal, whose young panel was exemplified in one League match where Eamonn Doherty was the oldest player at a mere 28.

“The minor team that [senior manager] Declan [Bonner] had five years ago reached an All-Ireland minor final so the quality was obviously there and it is coming through,” said McGonigle.

“But there is still a lovely blend of youth and experience and maybe the weight is on the side of youth, but maybe that’s a good thing.

“And there have been a lot of, changes even in the past two years, and all for the better.

“It is all competitive, but we have always been good at producing players in Donegal, but I think we are now reaping the benefits of the All-Ireland success at the start of the decade.

“Oisin Gallen was only 11 years of age when Donegal won that All-Ireland [in 2012] so we are starting to see the fruits of that.

“It is always easy to get boys on board when you are winning.

“I think the standard of club football has also improved over the past few years.

“Overall the quality of our leagues is at a high level and the availability of the county players is key to that.

“Everyone wants to see them playing and it lifts the competition in the county.”

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