Brendan Devenney: ‘It doesn’t matter about Armagh - all that matters is Derry’

Donegal boss Jim McGuinness will have squad fully focused on upcoming Ulster Championship date with Oak Leafs

Donegal's Ryan McHugh with Armagh's Andrew Murnin and Rory Grugan. Picture: John Merry
Donegal are limbering up for a Division Two decider against Armagh on Sunday - but former Tir Chonaill forward Brendan Devenney believes the Ulster Championship date with Derry will be Jim McGuinness's sole priority. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

CONVERSATIONS with Brendan Devenney have a tendency to go where the wind takes them.

One minute he’s in full-on analytical mode, examining the strengths of Donegal’s press since Jim’s second coming, the next you could be in a field at Electric Picnic. Or a house party back in the day with McGuinness on the decks.

It’s what has always made the Letterkenny man one of the most engaging, often irreverent figures in the game.

And that explains why, roughly half an hour in, another fork in the road presents itself.

“Sorry, we’re going into the f**king Derry game a bit,” he says, before laughing, “hey, we’re disrespecting the League final here...”

That just about says it all. At least for Devenney, and many others who know what makes McGuinness tick.

The Donegal boss may have spent a chunk of Monday’s pre-Championship press event extolling the virtues of the National League deciders, and Sunday’s date with Kieran McGeeney’s Orchardmen.

But his former team-mate isn’t buying it. Not really. Not at all, actually.

Because he believes Celtic Park, the Saturday evening of April 20, and a titanic tussle with Mickey Harte’s reigning Ulster champions will have dominated every session and every discussion held in the weeks since promotion back to Division One was secured.

“To me, it doesn’t matter about Armagh, that they’re playing another Ulster county or anything like that – all that matters is Derry.

“Now, Jim will want the right preparation for it, but the whole thing is geared towards Derry. How much does Jim want to show his tactical plan on Sunday? Probably not at all.

“So I think you’ll see Donegal drop in and out of different shapes, testing out a few things, all with one thing in mind – Derry. I don’t think he’ll want to give Mickey too much to go on.”

Last year muddied the waters somewhat in terms of the perception of where Donegal were, compared to where they currently stand.

McGuinness’s return has lifted the mood across the county, but mitigating factors for under-performance amidst a chaotic campaign should have ensured faith was never lost.

That side of things left Devenney with a sour taste.

Brendan Devenney has tipped his native Donegal to retain Ulster this weekend
Former Donegal forward Brendan Devenney believes Jim McGuinness will have studied Mickey Harte's Derry in-depth as the Ulster Championship clash between the north-west rivals looms

“There’s probably a production to be made on Donegal 2023 because the drama was all there... to be fair Aidan [O’Rourke] and Paddy Bradley did turn it round.

“The fact that we beat Monaghan, the season that they ended up having, then we probably ran out of gas a bit by the Tyrone game. So there were plus points in it already, because you were thinking if we can compete with Derry for three-quarters of a game, we can beat Monaghan.

“We have a whole load of new players back involved this year if you include the likes of Michael Langan, who was injured, [Jason] McGee, the two O’Donnells [Niall and Shane], Peadar Mogan was missing, Paddy McBrearty was injured, Ryan McHugh wasn’t involved, Ciaran Moore has come in there and he’s flying,

“Of course the Tyrone game was a kick in the nuts, they’re big rivals and that was probably their best game of the season, but it ended up not too bad, considering how it had looked at one point. Then Jim comes in and, of course, all the memories of those four glorious years come back.

“I was thinking then it’s a wee bit fickle that it can fall so quick when things aren’t going well. Like, last year was probably when those players needed our support, and our financial support, more than ever, and that’s the time it goes away a bit.

“You’ll always have a hardcore of Donegal fans but the whole vibe just went bad, and it obviously affected the fundraising, which is a huge part of things now. It’s not just an extra now, it’s vital to preparation.”

Yet, despite the return of the man who led Donegal to the promised land in 2012, and the reacquainting of Harte and McGuinness all these years on, a bit of caution is required in Tir Chonaill.

There are hallmarks of the previous regime – the energy, the hunger, the omerta – but, Devenney feels, the game has reached a point where the potential for progression is not quite the same as 12 years ago.

“Shaun Patton’s da is a customer of mine, and the odd time something might come up, ‘how’s McBrearty? What about so and so?’, and he’ll say ‘I said to Shaun and he said - I don’t know’. That’s his da, like.

“With everybody now, it’s such a closed shop. Even boys I would’ve played with, I might meet them down the street, and I know not to even ask them about anything - not that I think anybody has any major secrets in terms of what they’re doing.

“Jim ‘mark one’ was such a landmark time in GAA, never mind Donegal. Now, things have got so tactical it’s unbelievable.

“What was happening around 2011, ‘12, teams who probably weren’t as good as other teams were able to beat other teams because they committed to a system that the other team didn’t know what to do with.

“Now, everybody’s committed to a similar system, so what you’re seeing is the talent coming back to the very top. Everybody’s playing the same sort of way, so the teams with the best players rise to the top.

“You look at the top three teams in the League, Derry, Dublin, Kerry - those are the teams with the most talent. Before, Donegal were able to get the better of a few teams with more talent than them but in the years since there has been an evening out across the board.

“Sunday probably won’t tell us a whole lot, from a Donegal or an Armagh point of view, because their priorities will be elsewhere. Jim will have looked hard at Derry; he’ll know they are at a level where it’s going to take a damn good team to beat them.”