Steven Poacher

The McGuinness and Harte factor

By Niall Gartland

JIM McGuinness and Mickey Harte, they hardly need an extensive introduction – and there’s no doubt that there’s a great deal of intrigue surrounding Jim’s return to the sideline at Donegal and Harte’s, let’s just say rather surprising detour to the Oak Leaf County.

Will their appointments have the desired effect? Derry are targeting an All-Ireland title, there’s no doubt about that, while Donegal will be eyeing up a rejuvenation under their 2012 All-Ireland winning manager.

Derry earned plaudits for their swashbuckling approach in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry earlier in the year, and fans will be wondering whether they’ll continue in the same vein under Harte.

Coach Steven Poacher admits he isn’t quite sure whether conservatism or adventure will be the order of the day – but it’ll be certainly interesting to find out.

“You saw the depth in Derry’s attack under Ciarán Meenagh’s influence in particular, pushing seven or eight men into the opposition ’21’. Sometimes they’d all 15 players in the opposition ’45’ using their goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch as a plus one. It was a big play from Derry and not something that would be necessarily associated with Mickey Harte’s teams of the past.

“I’m not sure whether Mickey will go along with it and put his own stamp on things. I saw Louth live twice last year and they were very well-organised and we all know that Mickey prides himself on having good, solid defensive foundations.

“Derry were definitely good defensively as well under Ciarán Meenagh and Rory Gallagher as well, but Mickey’s preference is for a more deep-lying zonal defensive system and it’ll be very interesting to see if he brings that into Derry.”

Poacher continued: “Derry have been synonymous with their structured attack in recent years geared towards negating the effects of the blanket defence.

“They pushed as many players as they can into the opposition’s ’45’ to try to create one-v-one situations for the likes of Ethan Rafferty and Shane McGuigan.

“Now you could make an argument that Derry have better forwards than Mickey had under Tyrone in his final years there, but even some of the Tyrone players made it known publicly that they weren’t totally keen on the way they were playing.

“Derry have been very innovative in recent years and it’ll be interesting to see whether Mickey will go with his more conservative approach because in all honesty that probably isn’t enough anymore to get your hands on the All-Ireland.”

Another topic up for discussion is what Mickey will do with their goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch, a player not exactly immune to leaving his nets. Poacher feels it would be unwise to curtail Lynch’s attacking instincts.

“Lynch had his best season yet last year, he’s made considerable improvements to his play. He’s a very confident keeper, he doesn’t get flustered when there’s a press put on him and he’s very confident at the tip of the D kick-out.

“I don’t think Mickey will change that much with Odhrán, he’d be mad to do so, and he was happy to let Niall Morgan venture outfield in his Tyrone days.

“The biggest thing for a goalkeeper is confidence. You have to trust the goalkeeper to play the game as he sees it.

“If you tell a goalkeeper that you can’t do this and you can’t do that you’re putting a big restriction on him. Odhran was a big part of Derry’s gameplan last year in a quarter-back role where he can pop a pass or look for a mark. Also Derry have immense physicality in the middle with Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers and Odhrán adds to that, they can compete with the best midfields in Ireland.”

Time will tell whether McGuinness will work miracles in his second stint as Donegal manager. He oversaw a memorable four-year spell between 2011 and 2014 and while he hasn’t managed any teams in the mean-time, was involved in a training capacity with Conor Laverty’s Down last year. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Poacher thinks Down’s counter-attacking style of play could be indicative of what he brings to Donegal.

“Jim’s a very smart individual and he was in with Down last year, taking a session a week. He had a huge influence on the way Down played, they were very defensive, broke with great pace and committed a lot of players forward.

“I think that’s a template of what we can expect from Donegal, they’ll be very fit and organised, will bring a lot of bodies behind the ball and they’ll break in numbers.

“But I think one of the biggest challenges will be adding pace in this Donegal team. Down’s pace caused them a lot of bother in the Ulster Championship and his biggest challenge will be finding players who fit the system.

“The game has evolved and the deep-lying zonal defensive block isn’t enough anymore. I don’t put it past Jim to come up with some fresh innovation. His other big challenge is how he copes with a talisman like Michael Murphy, he was such a big part of Jim’s game-plan in his first stint. Donegal still have good players so they should be optimistic about the road ahead all the same.”

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