Donegal’s experiences in Croke Park last season will stand to the Ulster champions when they return to GAA Headquarters for their hugely-anticipated All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry on Sunday, according to Leo McLoone
Donegal’s 2011 championship adventure ended in All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, but they overcame Kildare in the previous round at the same venue in a classic game.
McLoone, the Naomh Conaill clubman, feels Jim McGuinness’s formidable outfit are now better prepared for big games in the capital.
“I think our time out in Croke Park last year will definitely have helped,” he said. “That bit of experience. We are used to the surroundings and so on. I think it will definitely help that way.”
Having taken the Gaelic football world by surprise last summer with their run from the preliminary round of the provincial championship to a first Ulster title in 19 years, and then on to an All-Ireland semi-final, McLoone admits that teams are better prepared for their brand of football this year.
By retaining the Ulster title with an impressive trimming of Down, Donegal proved – if it were needed – that they are a serious force and have well and truly blown their cover.
“A lot of teams have been working on ways to stop our play, but I suppose the underdog (thing) too, we were definitely more underdogs last year,” he adds.
“Maybe this year teams are watching out for us that bit more after winning Ulster last year. This year now again we will be under that bit more pressure. But as I say we will take it each game at a time.”
Looking back at that 2-18 to 0-13 defeat of Down in the Ulster final, McLoone says Donegal’s remarkable fitness levels came to the fore in the second half, which McGuinness’s side completely dominated.
“I think our fitness really showed in the second half, and the wind too. We had the wind in the second half it helped us lots and we could kick from further out.
“There was less energy being used working the ball up the field. I think our fitness was maybe the main aspect really.”
It was a victory McLoone, who scored Donegal’s first half goal, was able to savour more than last year’s.
“I think maybe last year we won an Ulster championship and everything was a bit nervous and everyone was a bit anxious. I think this year everybody settled down and enjoyed the occasion a bit more.
“We had time to think about it and supporters, players and everyone involved enjoyed the occasion more so than last year.”
Having taken over as manager at the start of last season, McGuinness has already delivered back-to-back Ulster titles for the first time in Donegal’s history.
Their transformation has been nothing short of a sensation, and McLoone feels much of that is down to the hard work that has been put in on the training field.
“I think it’s just the savage work, as you say yourself. The work’s been done at training. Jim (McGuinness) is a tough character and he pushes all the players to their limits in training.
“I think at the start of the year this year our league form wasn’t great, maybe the training wasn’t the best. The training was toned down a bit but in the last month, maybe two months, the training has really been upped.
“Maybe the bit if the break at the start of the year helped us maybe get the mind settled.”
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