It was W B Yeats who said that “hearts are not had as a gift, but hearts are won, by those who are not entirely beautiful”.
Well the same could be said about this Donegal team who have won respect playing Gaelic football their own way.
These days the bile of raw defeat leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, because their inspirational manager Jim McGuinness put it best when he told around 5,000 fans at the homecoming in Donegal;
“More than anything in the world, we wanted to bring the Sam Maguire cup back to Donegal tonight, more than anything in the world.”
And that summarised the raw pain on the stage as the squad stood in stony silence, as the tributes flowed in on the Autumn air.
“The support we have had this year was second to none and to be honest with you we did not expect a homecoming tonight, not to mention the crowd we have here tonight in Donegal.
“I know I speak for all the players when I say a big thank you.
“It has been very humbling to come back in our own county having lost an All-Ireland final”.
He added that he would be “lying” if he did not say there was a “lot of pain” on the stage and a lot of emotion on the stage.
“We are very sad and very disappointed that we did not bring the Sam Maguire cup back to Donegal”.
And then he paid the finest tribute his players have possibly every got.
“I have been working with teams since I was 16 years of age and that equates to 25 years now.
“But this group here behind me now are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best people, not talk about players or anything else, that I have ever worked with” he said.
“Every single night we go to training, we push them as hard as we possibly can with the aim that they can push themselves as hard as they possibly can when they go out to play.
“And every single night, under an unbelievable captain in Michael Murphy, they always turn up and for me that is a very special part of this journey, working with this group of players.
“It’s testimony to the clubs they have come from.
‘It’s testimony to the families they have come from and it’s also testimony to themselves as individuals.
“We’ve had 128 training sessions this year and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all that they have done.
“Every single night they are there, they are sharp, they want to learn, they want to work, they want to improve and get better.
“As a coach, that is the holy grail, when you have athletes feeding off each other and being there for the right reasons, to play for their county, then that is a very special thing,” he added.
McGuinness said “that’s why this group of players have won three Ulster championships and an All-Ireland in four years”, to loud applause.
“Five years ago we started with the Under 21’s and some moved on to the senior team.
“We have some of them get married, some of them break up, some of them have children, some of them have started education, some of them finished at Third Level and then grow and develop into unbelievable human beings.
“It has just been phenomenal to work with them and I just want everybody in Donegal tonight to acknowledge them and hopefully there is a lot more to come from them”.
And this was a tad more than a slight hint that McGuinness might give it another lash next year.
Meanwhile, speaking on Monday morning in Dublin, McGuinness said that nothing much had changed over night.
“We are still disappointed with our performance and speaking with a few of the lads they are of the same mindset.
“They feel there is more in us than we showed, we were just a little lethargic and had not got the same energy and drive.
“I don’t know if it was the occasion or coming off the big game against Dublin, I still haven’t worked that out, but we would be very disappointed in that aspect of it.
“Kerry played well, had a very good game plan and were deserving winners, there’s no doubt about that, but we would have a normal level, and we did not get to that level, that we try to get to and that’s the toughest part of the whole thing,” he admitted.
So was Donegal’s All-Ireland against Dublin?
“I don’t honestly know.
“It was great to get through the game and it was a really top level display but our preparations for the final were good.
“We’d a full complement and we had our game-plan well nailed down going into it.
“I suppose there were certain elements of our game plan that we weren’t able to push forward on.
“Frank McGlynn did it for the last goal chance and Rory Kavanagh did it a few times also and Leo McLoone but they were all isolated and got turned over.
“We did a lot of training all year and most of our training sessions would have been at a higher intensity than how we played and that’s a disappointment.
“Conceding a goal put us on the back foot and we were chasing the game after that.
“You could look at Kerry’s goals and Jigger’s chance but our own level wasn’t there and that for me was the defining thing”.
So did Tir Conaill fall into the trap of expecting it to happen rather than making it happen?
McGuinness said this was indeed a possibility.
“But the Kerry goal in the very first minute had an impact because you are chasing the game whereas if you go a few points up, people are more energetic.
“It was definitely a shock to us to concede a goal that early in the game.
“But we came back and were a point ahead in the second half and then we conceded a second goal and it was a bit of a hammer blow.
“We did something very similar in the Armagh game.
“But you would have to ask yourself the question as to why we are not doing that in normal time and open play.
“That’s the one that will keep me up a few nights”.
On the question of a possible clash of colours, he said;
“Well they were very close and we were going to propose before the game that we would go in white.
“But that is only nit picking.
“I thought the referee struggled for periods of the game.
“He did not have an impact in swaying the game either way.
“But we needed more energy, more synergy and needed to take the game to them much more than we did.
“These are the things that are core values of what we do and that was very disappointing”.
McGuinness has recently been promoted into working with the Celtic senior squad, so could that affect his decision to stay in charge of Donegal.
“It’s not that it’s got more intense.
“It’s just that my job is with the first team and it is not a major issue and I will take time to reflect, just like last year.
“In many respects, last year was a much more difficult position to be in.
“You get beat by 16 points in a quarter-final and you have to question yourself and you have to question a lot of other areas and we all did that and we will do it again in a very thorough way”.
So Celtic will not stand in the way of his future with Donegal.
“Ah no Celtic has been absolutely fantastic to me.
“They have been really top class from Neil Lennon, the previous manager, this manager and Dermot Desmond, they have been so flexible for me.
“So my flights would work around our training and where we are.
“If there was a game on I would miss the game to go to the Donegal training.
“I would like to thank them for that because they have given us the opportunity to prepare the team really well this year.
“They have been a great support”.
It’s been a long hard road for the nine 30 somethings who make up the Donegal squad and McGuinness hinted that some of the older hands could be considering their future.
“You have to look at yourself and I suppose that’s what the players will be doing as well.
“We had a lot of tough conversations at the back end of last year and people committed.
“There are probably one or two that probably won’t be back if I am gauging the thing right.
“But you never know and that’s why I would be very conservative in commenting on it because maybe in a week or two they might say ‘listen I’m 30 or 31, but I’m still in good shape and I might have something to offer again next year’.
“I think it’s important to keep it cool and make good decisions after reflecting over a period of time”.
And it is important also to remember that Tir Conaill were only the butt of the post away from a replay.
“We probably would have sneaked it but we would definitely have taken it.
“We would have relished the opportunity to play a second day, in terms of our own levels of performance last Sunday.
“But it was not to be and over the 70 minutes we had no qualms about it.
“We wish Kerry well and I am sure they will enjoy this All-Ireland.
“We have to go home and reflect on things.
“We’ll go down the road and stick together like we have always done.
“It’s been a phenomenal journey”.
It certainly has and despite Sunday’s crushing defeat, this group of players has certainly put pride back in the Tir Conaill jersey.
“We would be happy with that side of it and there is also a very good connection between the players and the supporters.
“The players have been very available and have created a really good bond.
“They are also very available for the young kids and that’s important because the first thing I said to the players was;
“You are ambassadors, you are representing your county and your club, and you have to walk that way, talk that way and project that way.
“For kids who might want to play for Donegal in ten years, what they see and their role models is hugely important.
“And I think our lads have done a great job on that in the past four years.
Coming from Jim McGuinness that is indeed, a compliment.