The losers’ dressing room is where no player wants to be on All Ireland Final day.
At around half past five on Sunday evening, the handful of reporters gathered outside the Donegal dressing room area didn’t really want to be there either.
But when sports editors have pages to fill, interviews with players have to be sought - players who were only just coming to terms with the dejection of losing an All Ireland senior final.
And you could almost feel the apprehension among those with note-pads and recorders in hand. The Donegal players have always been accommodating when it comes to giving reaction immediately after games. But in many ways, this was a different situation. After all, when’s the last time they lost an All Ireland final?
The first of those to emerge from the dressing rooms were Eamon McGee and Christy Toye. McGee went immediately upstairs, probably for a pre-arranged radio interview. Toye threw his bag into the boot of the team-bus and then turned to take questions from the waiting reporters.
“Losing an All Ireland is a bitter disappointment and I suppose we showed very little coherence,” he offered.
“And I know that we are a seven or eight points team better than we showed.”
As Toye continued to speak, more players and backroom staff began to emerge, among them Paul Durcan. Just three weeks earlier, the big keeper’s saves against the Dubs had helped his team into an All Ireland Final. Sunday evening wasn’t the time for dealing with reporters. He sat on the team-bus, alone with his thoughts.
Outside, his team-mate Toye was jumping to Durcan’s defence.
“The second goal for Kerry was not the turning point at all, but it was our general performance over the field that was the real difference,” he said.
Frank McGlynn said the team’s performance had been flat. “We are disappointed with the result but being honest about it, we are more disappointed that none of us played the football we are capable of playing,” he said.
Colm McFadden’s view was the same. “We had played our best game against Dublin, but for one reason or another, we never got up to that level in today’s game. In fairness to Kerry, that was also down to them and the way they approached the game.”
McFadden’s club-mate. Martin McElhinney, just like he did in 2012, came off the bench as a second half substitute. “We are all devastated,” he said. “You put so much effort into winning an All Ireland but then you’re pipped at the post, it’s just terrible.”
Asked about the two Kerry goals, he said: “Goals do win matches but I wouldn’t blame anyone, I wouldn’t blame Papa (Durcan). He was one of the main men to get us here. These things happen in football. We just have to get on with it now and hopefully this can make us stronger.”
Darach O’Connor had only found out that he was in the starting 15 on Sunday morning. He accepted that it was a proud day for him, but insisted that mattered for little given the end result.
“It doesn’t really mean anything if you don’t win.” he said.
“We’re devastated. As a collective, we just didn’t perform. We just have to try and get our heads around this.”
Ryan McHugh said the defeat was very hard to take. “I know we had planned to go home from this day victorious but we didn’t produce our stuff on the day and Kerry were probably the better team out there. They deserved their victory.”
While the interviews continued, the Donegal Minor squad emerge from under the stadium, making their way to their team bus. Just a couple of hours earlier the same players had trudged off the pitch, some of them in tears, following their defeat by Kerry.
Soon after, the Kerry minors pass by. There’s a lilt in their step. Smiles on their faces.
One of the last players to speak to reporters was the Donegal team captain, Michael Murphy. Much has been made of the fact that Murphy stayed out on the pitch to shake the hands of the opposition following the cup presentation. But by the time he went to board the team-bus at tea-time on Sunday evening, the pain of the defeat was perhaps just beginning to hit home.
This reporter happened to be closest to the captain and got the chance to ask him for his thoughts. The time between question and answer seemed like an eternity. Murphy was visibly stuggling for words.
He bore the marks of a man who’d just come from battle - a wound above his chest area peaked out from below his t-shirt. Emotionally, he appeared a beaten man.
“We came to win the game, but we just didn’t perform and that’s the end of it,” he managed. “Kerry performed slightly better than us on the day and were deserving winners.”
He agreed that Donegal had responded well to each Kerry goal. “The responses were good but it’s just the fact that we were always responding,” he said. “We were never on the front-foot. It’s something we’ll have to live with for ever more, that we didn’t perform on the day.”
He added: “We need time to reflect on this, to sit back and to look back It’s just tough to take.”