Football Fever in County Donegal
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By Liam Porter
Across County Donegal, Ireland, there is only one topic of conversation this week – and that’s football.
Gaelic football that is. Donegal have qualified for their first all-Ireland final in twenty years and the county has gone crazy.
Houses, shops, even sheep have been painted in the county colours of green and gold and the one question everybody wants an answer to – where can they get their hands on a ticket for the game?
The all-Ireland final, is to Gaelic football what the Superbowl is to American football.
It is arguably though, a much bigger deal.
Over 82,000 people will pack into Dublin’s Croke Park on September 23rd to watch Donegal play Mayo – many thousands more will watch on television.
And they’ll be there to watch – not multi-million dollar earning sports stars – but amateurs; teachers, bank officials, engineers – all giving their all in an effort to win Gaelic football’s biggest prize.
It’s a tough prize to win too. The country’s most successful football team, Kerry, was the last team to win back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
Fancied again for success in 2012, Kerry fell to Donegal at the quarter-final stage in August. Last year’s winners, Dublin, were put to the sword against Mayo who have waited even longer than Donegal to taste all-Ireland success.
Their last win came way back in 1951 and rumors abound that having driven past a funeral during their celebrations, they were cursed by a priest who said they’d never win another until every member of that squad was dead.
They’ve been in five finals since then, most recently in 2006 and have lost them all.
It’s perhaps not such a surprise then that the build up in Mayo is a much lower key affair than the hype and hysteria that has been going on in Donegal.
Mayo manager James Horan has kept his squad in the county doing what they would normally do in the build up to a match.
And he’s confident that their approach will be the right one to topple a Donegal side who have ruffled the feathers of big teams like Kerry and Cork on their way to the final.
The man responsible for the Donegal transformation – Jim McGuinness – was a member of the Donegal panel in 1992 when the county won their only All-Ireland, and as a coach he has really earned his corn.
Yet as a player, McGuinness had pretty much done it all. A fringe member of the 1992 squad he has won Ulster and All-Ireland medals and at College’s level he won three prestigious Sigerson Cups.
He represented Ireland in the 1998 Compromise Rules series against Australia and in 1999 he travelled to Philadelphia to play for a Philadelphia Donegal team that included fellow Donegal player Brian McLaughlin and Tyrone player Ciaran Gourley.
Playing with his home-town club Naomh Conaill from Glenties in 2005 he won the Donegal Senior Championship after which McGuinness had his eyes on coaching.
“I’ve always liked working with people who want to achieve, who want to better themselves,” he said last week as he prepared his team for the biggest game of their lives.
Under his guidance the Donegal players who have themselves won two Ulster titles, have become hugely respected for their fitness, discipline and dedication.
That is in no small measure down to the level of preparation and the attention to detail the coach and his backroom staff have brought to the set up.
As the county went wild with flags and bunting and songs for Donegal, McGuinness had his players whisked away from all the madness to training camps in Kildare and Meath.
There the Donegal team could work without distraction on tactics and preparations for their battle with Mayo.
Meanwhile back in their home county and indeed everywhere there are Donegal folk gathered including Philadelphia, the talk continued about football, football, football and the search for tickets…