|Donegal manager Jim McGuinness and Michael Murphy celebrate after the |
win at Croke Park on Sunday.
They're obsessed with the weather in Donegal, so obsessed that they have taken to complaining to Irish broadcasters whenever rain is predicted for their beautiful county.
I heard one such complaint just last week as the excellent Ray D’Arcy Show on the Today FM station accompanied me on my journey from the wonderful golf links at Narin and Portnoo to the equally brilliant course at Murvagh.
Ray had related a story about the lord mayor of a Donegal town complaining that the RTE weather forecasters were constantly predicting heavy rain for their county even when the sun was shining.
One hotelier had even threatened legal action against the weather forecasters because, he claimed, they were driving last minute business away from his hotel if they said it was raining in Donegal.
So you can imagine my interest in this story as I drove from the Lakehouse Hotel, a secluded, peaceful and inviting spot overlooking that great course at Narin, to play the links called Murvagh that is also known as Donegal Golf Club.
As I drove, a woman rang into the show from the very Donegal town I has headed for and claimed that their summer had been brilliant, just brilliant, as far as sunshine was concerned.
She even went so far as to say that her cousins in the sunny south-east were getting drowned down in Waterford while she was soaking up the rays in the “rainy” north-west.
Alas, as she spoke, I had to turn the wipers on as another torrential shower bucketed down and the heavens opened over the Donegal skyline.
The good news is that the sun did come back out by the time we teed off at Murvagh. And if you’re ever coming over from America to play links golf in Ireland, I can heartily recommend Donegal and the courses at Narin, Murvagh, Rosapenna and Ballyliffin just to name a few hidden gems.
As it happened I was gone out of Donegal by the time their country footballers took to the Croke Park field against Cork in Sunday’s All-Ireland semifinal. So was most of the county.
Everywhere we went last week, they wanted to talk football. They wanted to know if Jim McGuinness’s team could beat Cork and then Mayo or Dublin in the final.
They wanted to know how to get a ticket for the September showpiece when their team got that far – not if.
And they wanted to know what we, as outsiders, thought of their new style of football under 1992 All-Ireland winner McGuinness.
Poor Jim had been castigated a year earlier when his first season in charge was marred by the most defensive football seen in Croke Park since Tyrone first came to power under Mickey Harte.
The team that Jim inherited made it to the All-Ireland semifinal, but they won few admirers along the way.
A year down the road to Dublin and the style, like the weather, has changed dramatically.
As the fans kept telling us last week, Donegal now play to win matches and not just to contain the opposition.
They still run around like mad men. They still work as hard to stop the opposition scoring as they did in 2011.
But now they play with a belief in their own ability, a teamwork that is as good as anything we have seen in the last 30 years and a swagger that comes only with a run of wins and growing confidence.
Essentially, McGuinness has built on the foundations laid last year and with real success.
Only for Katie Taylor’s gold medal glory at the London Olympics, he would be a shoe-in to win the Manager of the Year award at the annual lunch that signals the beginning of the Christmas festive season every December.
That award has to go to Katie’s dad Pete after their heroics this year, but McGuinness deserves to be feted between now and then.
He’d probably settle for the Sam Maguire Cup and a reunion with a trophy he helped to win for Donegal’s one and only time all of 20 years ago. And he might well meet up with Sam again.
It’ll take a good team to stop them now and a brave man to bet against them, but that’s not the only reason McGuinness deserves recognition.
More than once this year he has made the Donegal fans forget about the weather.
I doubt they cared what it did in Narin and Portnoo last Sunday. I doubt they’ll care what the weather wants to do on the third Sunday of September when they all return to Croke Park again for the All-Ireland final.
Thanks to Jim McGuinness, the sun is shining on Donegal football again. And that’s all that matters right now.
The famous Donegal rain can do what it wants – it won’t spoil this parade.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
Duff Says Goodbye
It seems like only yesterday when we gathered in the distant Czech town of Olomouc to witness history in the making.
Little did we know it at the time, but the Irish debutants selected by Mick McCarthy that night -- and there were several -- would serve their country well.
Two of them have been in the news of late. Robbie Keane is to stay on and serve his country as captain and goal threat number one for the next two years.
Damien Duff, however, is to slip off into international retirement when Ireland start their 2014 World Cup bid in Kazakhstan on Friday, September 7.
Like Shay Given, he has decided enough is enough after 14 years and 100 caps in the green jersey. Like Given, he has served his country so well in the days and nights since that debut in the Czech Republic.
Duff owes us no apology for retiring and no explanation. He did us the favor by playing for Ireland for those 100 games, and we should never forget our debt of gratitude to the most laid-back football I have come across in a lifetime watching football at close hand.
On and off the pitch, Duffer was deceptive. He strolls through life like he strolls through games. Then he erupts with the sort of pace that would do Usain Bolt proud.
He’s had some great moments in the Irish shirt – the 2002 World Cup finals when he played as a striker alongside Robbie and scored against Saudi Arabia were probably the highlight.
He’s had his downfalls – none more so than the infamous World Cup night of the handballs in Paris.
But I suspect Damien Duff knew the game was up when Ireland went to the European finals this summer and couldn’t compete against Croatia, Spain or Italy.
Duffer only ever wanted the best for his country, and once he realized his best was no longer good enough he accepted it was time to call it a day.
We will miss him. We don’t have a ready-made replacement in the squad for all the hype surrounding Sunderland’s James McClean.
And we should thank him for his contribution to the Irish cause as FAI chief executive John Delaney has suggested elsewhere on these pages.
Duffer was brilliant for Ireland from Olomouc to Poznan and beyond. He was the closest thing we have ever had to a Brazilian footballer playing for our country.
And that’s the highest compliment I can pay him. As John Delaney said, thanks Damien for the memories. They are sweet.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
Donegal were 2-1 with the bookies to beat Cork in the All-Ireland football semifinal last week and there’s many a man sorry now they didn’t back them, me included. A year after they were slaughtered by the critics for their own brand of puke football, the Donegal players have brought a new approach to their game. And it is paying off. Jim McGuinness’s side were a joy to watch last Sunday, and they will give Mayo or Dublin a real run for their money in the All-Ireland final. I doubt they will be 2-1 again this year.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
Those who championed Padraig Harrington’s case for a Ryder Cup wild card pick missed a glaringly obvious point – he hasn’t played well enough this year to demand a place in the European team to play America in Medinah at the end of September. Padraig finished 19th in the European Ryder Cup rankings, and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know just look at his performance in New York over the weekend when he briefly led the Barclays then faded from the top of the leaderboard. He wants to play for Europe at Gleneagles in 2014 and I hope he does – but he will have to play well enough to justify his selection. There can be no room for sympathy in professional sport.