Donegal beat Tyrone to a coveted Ulster final spot on Saturday. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
provincial matters

'Ulster football is starting to shine a wee bit again,' says Donegal's 2012 Footballer of the Year

Karl Lacey, an All-Ireland winning defender and now coach, on Donegal, Cavan and Ulster football.

MULTIPLE ALL-STAR WINNER and Donegal coach Karl Lacey is pleased to see Ulster football portrayed in a more positive light this year, with his side safely into the decider and set to defend their provincial crown.

The Tír Chonaill men powered past 2018 All-Ireland finalists Tyrone in Saturday’s semi-final at Breffni Park, while Cavan had the edge over Armagh in their last four replay yesterday as they ended an 18-year wait for an Ulster final spot.

The sides will now do battle for the Anglo Celt Cup in Clones on 23 June, and it’s a challenge 2012 All-Ireland winner and Footballer of the Year Lacey is relishing.

“Maybe Ulster football is starting to shine a wee bit again,” he said at the launch of the 2019 Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards Panel today.

It’s good to see two teams that haven’t played each other in a while in an Ulster final. Hopefully in two weeks’ time now we can showcase what Ulster football is all about and have a good spectacle.”

“It’s kicked a lot,” he continued on the negativity of the past. “It’s just so competitive, I think that’s why. Maybe the style of football and the way teams set up is just because teams are looking to win and be really competitive in those games.

“I suppose it’s changing a wee bit now in terms of them defensive systems. There was nobody more to blame than Donegal, and the way they went about their business for a few years. When you have the forward line that we [currently] have and the forward line that Cavan have, you’d be mad not to utilise that.

“Having Michael Murphy behind the ball all the time or Dara McVeety behind the ball all the time, it’s important to let them boys play.”

Karl Lacey Lacey at today's launch. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The Four Masters club man, who works under Declan Bonner and alongside former Mayo manager Stephen Rochford in the Donegal backroom team, was more than pleased with his side’s performance on Saturday evening. 

They may have come in slightly under the radar, he agrees, but that was a good thing.

“I think the fact that Tyrone, a Division 1 team, played in the All-Ireland final last year and beat us in the Super 8s convincingly last year as well, probably gave the right for them to be going in like that,” he explained. “We were happy to be in that position.

“We knew deep down within our own group that we’re well able to beat them. Last year in the Super 8s, I think we were five points up going down the home straight; I think the lack of maturity, the young side probably had the bearing on the end result. We knew we had that to stand to us going into this game.

“We had confidence after winning the Division 2 title. I suppose we had Tyrone on the radar for a long time as well.

The most pleasing thing coming out of Breffni Park on Saturday was the performance, and getting them young lads to believe in themselves that they can compete with the big teams. That was the answers that we had to get out of them on Saturday night because Tyrone are seen as a top side. That was the most pleasing aspect.

Going into the decider against Mickey Graham’s Breffni side now, he accepts that Donegal will wear the favourites tag.

That’s out of their control though, and he’s seen enough of Cavan to be wary of them.

Declan Bonner with Karl Lacey Lacey with Declan Bonner on the line last summer. Evan Logan / INPHO Evan Logan / INPHO / INPHO

“Cavan are very impressive.Armagh are a very good side as well, not forgetting that. Cavan played very well the first day. Good open football, threats from all over the pitch

They’re dangerous everywhere. It’s a good sign of a team that they have that versatility, boys can go in and out. It’s hard to watch that and set up to beat that. We’re going to have our hands full in two weeks’ time. All we can do is look after ourselves and get our own house in order, and that’s what we plan to do in the next two weeks.

He added, on the favourites label on Donegal: “Plenty of the older guys have played in seven, eight, nine Ulster finals; they have only three, four medals to show for that

“You’re not over the line until that final whistle goes on Ulster final day. That’ll be the key thing now over two weeks. Yeah, we’ll take the positives out of Saturday night, we’ll take the belief that we can compete at the highest level but we also need to keep feet firmly on the ground as well.

“Cavan are a good side, so they are. We’ll not take anything for granted because until that final whistle goes in Clones on Ulster final day, you’ll not have that medal.”

Donegal’s most decorated Footballer, Karl Lacey, former Galway dual-star, Alan Kerins, former Waterford Hurling Manager, Derek McGrath and former Dublin footballer, Tomás Quinn join forces as the 2019 Panel for the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards.

This year Electric Ireland’s #GAAThisIsMajor campaign, now in its sixth year, will highlight the positive impact that the Minor Championship has on players long after their days on the field as a Minor have ended.

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