The Donegal supporters were in raptures in Croke Park on Saturday night when the final whistle went - the county had bridged an eight-year gap to reach the All-Ireland semi-final with a miraculous recovery against Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter- final.
They were last in the semi-final in 2003 when they needed a replay to overcome Galway and this game looked like going to a replay also but Gaoth Dobhair stalwart Kevin Cassidy stepped up with the winning point with almost the last kick of the game from fully 50 metres. A minute earlier Christy Toye had brought them back on terms.
They had to line out without captain Michael Murphy because of a hamstring injury and struggled for much of the first half, but thanks to a tremendous defensive display they were only two points adrift at the interval.
The half-time break was a help to Jim McGuinness to rally his troops and reorganise and they did this in style, being much more composed. There were so many stories from the game, none better than the return of Christy Toye to a Donegal shirt and it was a fairytale return as he rattled the Kildare net with his first touch, just seconds after coming in.
He had just two more touches in the game, one when losing possession and then firing over the equaliser in the last minute of extra time.
But this display was all about teamwork and Donegal’s refusal to accept defeat. Twice in extra time they went three points down, but on each occasion they came back. But the only time they got back on terms was that Toye point before Cassidy hit a wonderful winner.
The Donegal defence were simply brilliant with Karl Lacey, Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn outstanding while Kevin Cassidy’s two points were of the highest order. Donegal had just one pointed free during the entire game.
Donegal mentor Rory Gallagher paid tribute to Christy Toye and Kevin Cassidy for their part in the game.
“Christy has had bad luck and Kevin found it difficult to get up to speed when he came back but they have been around a long time and they know what to do. They never gave in and it was a superb winning point,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t really look ahead before this game. When I came in in January I wouldn’t have believed we could get so far but Jim (McGuinness) would have known. He knew the players could get further than July.
“The good thing is we have a month now to prepare and we have a lot of players with knocks. Michael Murphy will need the month but we can come up next week and look at the other quarter-final and enjoy it.”
Donegal’s Michael Hegarty had to go off with an injured knee but he was very happy at the end. “Kildare must be shocked. They were two up with a minute to go but Cassidy’s point was unbelievable. He had the balls to go for it,” said Hegarty.
Donegal will now meet the winners of Dublin and Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday, 28 August.
Bring it on!