And so it begins. Last week Jim McGuinness met with his backroom team and players and, as he put it himself, “got the ball rolling again” in preparation for 2014. Already the players have received individual strength and conditioning programmes and the deep down and dirty work required to play intercounty football at the the top level has kicked off in earnest. But at some point prior to that collective meeting, Jim will have sat down and discussed with his new backroom team his aspirations for 2014. You’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that one. Maybe the Kimberly Mikados and MiWadi Orange was produced as Jim outlined his vision for the year ahead. The question on Hurler’s lips is this – just what constitutes success in 2014?
In the aftermath of the provincial draw which sees us paired with Derry at Celtic Park in our Ulster opener on May 25, 2014, Hurler morphed into a one man market-research company and conducted the most unscientific of surveys amongst a handful of avid Donegal followers. The questions posed were this: (1) What constitutes success for Donegal in 2014? (2) At what stage of the 2014 All-Ireland series is it acceptable to lose – and to what teams?
Overwhelmingly – as the folk who carry out research on everything from cat food to mascara always say – the answer to the question What constitutes success for Donegal in 2014? was to reclaim the Ulster title won in 2011 and 2012. All but one of Hurler’s panel of experts plumped for an Ulster title. Mr. Barr, of this newspaper, summarized for the majority: “Success is winning Ulster and re-capturing some of that amazing drive and hunger from 2012. Adding a new player or two (if they can be found) to the squad would be a step forward too.”
Mr. Dowds, also of this newspaper, was the only one surveyed not particularly fixated on the Anglo-Celt: “Winning Ulster along the way would be nice, but if we did a Tyrone on it and reached the semi through the back door, giving ourselves a shot at qualifying for the All-Ireland, I’d be happy.”
Interestingly, the older panelists – men who have fifty years and more under their belt watching Donegal play ball – were particularly emphatic that a third Ulster title in four years would be a significant success. Indeed, their aspirations for 2014 were largely confined to exiting Clones in July with the Anglo-Celt in tow. After that, they more or less concurred, we are in bonus territory.
Which sort of addresses question two: At what stage of the 2014 All-Ireland series is it acceptable to lose – and to what teams? Take this answer from Mr. Logan, also of this parish: “A semi-final exit may be acceptable, and only losing to the Dubs. I believe they’re the best, and everyone beneath them we should be able to beat.”
Mr. McLaughlin, the doyen of our back pages, is a semi-final man too: “Success is another Ulster title, it’s never acceptable to lose but at least at the semi-final stage against Dublin (maybe Cork, Kerry) but nobody else!”
Mr. Barr concurs with that view: “Donegal should be making the last four almost every year just like the Dublins, Kerrys and even Mayo and Tyrone. Acceptable to lose to any of the big guns at that stage – just as long as it isn’t an annihilation like last year!”
In fairness, most Donegal fans – well aware of the near impossibility of winning back-to-back All Irelands – would have settled for an Ulster title in 2013 and an honourable exit at the hands of Dublin, Mayo or Kerry. But would an honourable exit at the hands of one of the big guns at the semi-final stage really constitute success in 2014 – even if the Anglo-Celt is safely perched on Michael Murphy’s mantelpiece in Glenswilly?
To read more from the Hurler, click here.