Mickey McCann relishing Croke Park return
By Cian O’Connell
For a couple of decades Donegal hurling has occupied a central role in Mickey McCann’s life.
Having transitioned from player to manager, McCann has endured demanding times and enjoyed days when silverware was secured too.
So returning to Croke Park for Sunday’s Nickey Rackard Cup decider against Mayo matters deeply to McCann.
“It was always an extra bonus when they brought in the trip to Croke Park for the lower tier competitions,” McCann admits.
“We have some new additions in our panel, it will be the first time playing there for them. So we are looking forward to it because it is always a bonus to get to Croke Park.
“We have put a good push into it with a full-time coach, strength and conditioning, there is a lot more effort. In fairness the County Board has got behind us a lot in the last two or three years, and it is starting to pay off.
“The panel is getting stronger every year with the young boys coming in. So we have a bit of strength in depth, something we never had before. Even in the Nickey Rackard we had a few injuries, but we had replacements to cover them.”
The Nickey Rackard triumph in 2018 illustrated Donegal’s potential, and while they were relegated from the competitive environs of the Christy Ring Cup positives were located according to McCann.
“I suppose in the Christy Ring last year we were nine points up against Derry in the first half and we just couldn't see it out,” McCann reflects.
“We had four or five bodies missing through the rest of the competition. I felt if we kept the panel we had the previous year we could have stayed in the Christy Ring.
“Now we have most boys back this year, we are starting to rise again, and we are well capable of competing in the Christy Ring, and possibly staying there which is where you want to be.
“We have won the Nickey Rackard, we have a big task against Mayo on Sunday, but the place we want to be is in the Christy Ring.”
McCann feels that his team has developed nicely in recent years stressing that the emergence of young talent is critical.
“Donegal wouldn't be known as a stronghold in hurling, but to be beating some of the teams we have like Armagh,” McCann remarks as evidence of Donegal’s improvement.
“They used to beat us regularly and we had no major success at all. It has risen up, there is a lot of homegrown talent on the panel.
“It showed the last day with two or three young boys from Letterkenny - their club team is coming on very strong too. We have five or six clubs now, where before you were pulling from two or three normally. That is probably why things are stepping up a small bit.”
McCann believes the work being carried out by the clubs in the county and the introduction of competitions such as The Celtic Challenge has aided the Donegal cause.
“Definitely we have a lot of young hurlers coming up through the county now,” McCann replies. “We have two or three young minors we have our eye on if we did stay another year, they have played through the Celtic Challenge.
“The more games them boys get at minor level, they need to go outside Donegal. The more things like that organised is always going to be good for the likes of Donegal hurling and other lower tier teams.”
GAA headquarters will provide the backdrop for Sunday’s decider against Mayo. “My first final was against a strong Derry team in '06, we were beaten,” McCann recalls.
“We had good days and bad days there. We won a Lory Meagher and Donegal won a Nickey Rackard in 2013 too.
“I've been retired since 2011, but I had four or five days in Croke Park. It is a great buzz. A lot of these players played with me. It is good to get the respect from them, that they would come under your wing.”
Similarities exist between Donegal and Mayo. Gaelic Football will always dominate the landscape, but both counties feel that sustaining a place in the Christy Ring Cup is an attainable target.
“Mayo haven't a lot of clubs either, you have Ballyhaunis and Tooreen, and one or two boys outside of that,” McCann comments.
“If you look at Tooreen, they won a Connacht Intermediate title two seasons ago. They love their hurling down there, the club scene is very tough in that there might only be two or three teams in it, but it isn't easy won.
“A bit like ourselves they are a football stronghold, but a lot of people love their hurling. It makes for a good game.
“They are probably going in as favourites because they have been playing Division 2A for a while, we have only come up to 2B. It has the makings of a good game in Croke Park; what more would you want.”