“Reports of my death was an exaggeration” was the quote of American author Mark Twain and there were some journalists forecasting the demise of Jim McGuinness on Sunday last.
One Sunday paper had such a particularly nasty critique of McGuinness and his tenure with Donegal, that you would wonder what the writer was basing the article on.
To a lesser degree, there have been murmurings within Donegal about the way McGuinness was handling the Donegal team. It seems that eaten bread is very soon forgotten.
No wonder there was a broad smile on the face of McGuinness on Sunday evening.
He had masterminded another memorable victory in the Ulster championship and his record remains one of the best of any manager in recent times - just one defeat in 12 matches over four years.
There was good reason for the broad smile, apart altogether from the horrific criticism that was hurled his way in the press.
Donegal were once again resembling the McGuinness model of teamwork with players supporting each other and the defenders becoming attackers at speed.
Of the 12 scores, two came from defence, two from midfield and the other eight from four forwards - which makes eight different scorers on the day. That was in huge contrast to the league when we rarely had more than three different scorers.
When you add in that Colm McFadden didn’t get on the scoresheet at all, it makes for good reading. McFadden was off colour but when you take into account that he spent almost a week in bed with the ‘flu, that was probably a huge contributing factor.
With the St Michael’s man back to full health and Rory Kavanagh back from suspension, Donegal’s path can continue on an upward curve in the coming weeks and months.
While the win was achieved with hard work and the purple patch of 12 minutes after half-time, there were plenty of areas where improvement will be necessary.
Donegal will have to be able to mimic that 12-minute spell on a few occasions during any given game. If they can do that and also maintain their defensive discipline, then they can be in the mix. Only time will tell on that front.
Leo McLoone could start giving a masterclass on how to take a goal. The photograph that captured the goal suggests that he is holding back a smile, as he dinks the ball over Thomas Mallon.
That score and the sideline from Michael Murphy from just inside the 45m line would have been worth the admission money on their own. It was a pity that BBC commentator, Mark Sidebottom, found time to cast a doubt on Murphy’s score, that he might have broken the line before kicking.
A visit to Specsavers might be on the cards for the BBC man.
It seemed unfair that Christy Toye was replaced at half-time by his clubmate, Martin McElhinney, but it was part of the master plan by McGuinness to get the best out of both players. And to be fair, it worked a treat. Presumably, both players were told what was happening. Toye, against the odds, kept Donegal in the game around the middle in the opening half. Of the four scores that Donegal got, he scored one and made two of the other three with passes to Darach O’Connor and Karl Lacey.
McElhinney was like a man possessed in the second half and he was out to prove that he was good enough to be in the starting 15. But even if he doesn’t start the next day, McElhinney is a huge asset to Donegal now and can be relied on to put his shoulder to the wheel when called upon.
There were many other positives with Lacey back to his brilliant best; he could give a masterclass in tackling and there are a number of teammates who could enrol for that class. Anthony Thompson turning up in every corner of the field, getting a point; hitting the two passes for Michael Murphy to create the goal and score a point; Frank McGlynn’s sheer class when carrying the ball at speed and Ryan McHugh’s industry and control on the ball.
The McGees saw their men replaced long before the final whistle, while Paddy McGrath surprised almost every Donegal supporter. Few even knew that he was close to being involved in the match-day panel, let alone starting. And it seemed as if he had never been away, harrying and eager to overlap when necessary. Paul Durcan, too, had an excellent game, especially on a day when he had to measure his kick outs with the ‘new’ Donegal midfield.
For Patrick McBrearty, it will be a game that provided him with some good chances which he would like to get again. But no doubt McGuinness and the Donegal management will be happy that the Kilcar starlet worked very hard on the day and put himself in the position to receive the ball for goal chances. One of these days he is going to rack up a big score.
Odhran MacNiallais was making his championship debut and was also given the added responsibility of taking on the midfield role. He will have learned a lot about the white heat of championship football and with so many experienced players around him, he can continue to adapt to the role that he has been given in the team.
McLoone is not one to be in the papers, on twitter or on TV before or after games, but he put in a great shift on Sunday. The value of having two feet in tight situations was underlined by McLoone, who showed remarkable composure as he took both his goal and point with his left.
Darach O’Connor also got a start and he took his early point with great skill and confidence. He’s another player who can look forward to many more championship outings.
That leaves Michael Murphy, who continues to be the leader and is willing to sacrifice his great individual skill for the good of the team. He hit the upright with his first free. He will have to practice a little harder!
It was a good day all round for Donegal in Celtic Park.
The Donegal minors should have been out of sight at the half-time break, such was their dominance in the opening half. But the result was the main thing for this talented team.
Like the seniors, they can look forward with confidence to the Ulster semi-final.