The wait is over. The Anglo Celt is back in Donegal for the first time since 1992 after Donegal overcame Derry in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones on Sunday.
All the heartache during those nineteen barren years were forgotten as a very big Donegal support were part of the 28,364 in Clones on Sunday and they were rewarded with much better weather than that prevailing in Donegal and also by another workmanlike display from Donegal.
Jim McGuinness became the first manager other than Brian McEniff to guide Donegal to Ulster success and there was jubilation when Michael Murphy raised aloft the Anglo Celt Cup.
The game was a close affair until two minutes into the second half when Michael Hegarty lofted high towards the Derry goal and Michael Murphy was upended as he clashed with ‘keeper Danny Devlin. There was plenty of debate about the penalty award, but referee Maurice Deegan was adamant. It took some two minutes to get the kick taken as Derry protested and ‘keeper Devlin refused to go back on his line.
Even when Michael Murphy stepped up to the kick, Devlin was fully six yards off his line, but he was unable to stop the Glenswilly man’s rocket which put Donegal three clear and they never looked back after that.
Derry, with the aid of the breeze, had threatened at times in the opening half, thanks to their dominance around midfield, but without the Bradleys up front, they never looked likely to build up a big total. Indeed, when they had most possession, they seemed hurried with their kicks and eight first half wides didn’t help their cause.
Donegal held the upper hand in the opening quarter and led after 21 minutes by 0-5 to 0-2 with Anthony Thompson accounting for two of those scores with great runs from defence.
But a Charlie Kielt special with the outside of his right on 26 minutes (his second of the half) launched a Derry revival and by the 30th minute they were back on terms with further points from a Conleth Gilligan free and an inspirational point from substitute Martin Donaghy.
Things were going against Donegal as they lost Rory Kavanagh to injury and Michael Murphy was wide from a 30m free just before the half-time break.
Then came the turning point with Murphy winning and firing home the penalty at the start of the second half. Afterwards the game threatened to boil over as young Patrick McBrearty was downed by a stray elbow by Dermot McBride, but when the dust settled Colm McFadden swung over another point to put Donegal four clear and by the 44th minute Michael Hegarty fired over another from an awkward angle.
Derry did get the lead back to three but McFadden and Murphy edged Donegal 1-9 to 0-7 ahead with 11 minutes left.
Derry had a big call for a penalty with six minutes left when Emmet McGuckian won a high ball, lost it and won it again as he was challenged by Neil McGee, but the claim was waved away, one of the few claims that Derry did not get after the Donegal penalty in the 37th minute.
The second half free count was 20-6 in favour of Derry as referee Deegan seemed to lean towards them after the strong protests against the Donegal penalty award.
Before the end Michael Hegarty embellished one of his finest dispays in a Donegal shirt with a second point while Colm McFadden hit the point of the game in added time to seal the six point victory.
The game will not go down as a classic, but being involved in a classic was not part of Jim McGuinness’s agenda. The goal of an Ulster title was set when he took over and he has delivered, something that was not lost on Michael Hegarty, who was very loud in his praise of the manager and his methods.
Hegarty had suffered three Ulster final defeats and that deep hurt was on show in a very good all-round team performance. Paul Durcan had another excellent game between the posts; Karl Lacey ran himself into the ground with Anthony Thompson also outstanding; big Neil Gallagher, a late call up for his first start in the championship was immense while up front Ryan Bradley, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden were excellent.
Take a bow Donegal. The win puts all the heartache of ‘93, ‘98, ‘02, ‘04 and ‘06 to bed.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson (0-2), Karl Lacey, Kevin Cassidy; Rory Kavanagh, Neil Gallagher; Mark McHugh, Michael Hegarty (0-2), Ryan Bradley (0-1); Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy (1-2,1-0 pen), Colm McFadden (0-4,2f). Subs., Martin McElhinney for Kavanagh inj 32; Dermot Molloy for McBrearty 53; David Walsh for Bradley 58.
Derry: Danny Devlin; Sean Leo McGoldrick, Kevin McGuckin, Dermot McBride; Ciaran Mullan, Charlie Kielt (0-2), Michael Bateson; Joe Diver, Michael Friel; Mark Lynch, Caolan O’Boyle, Barry McGoldrick; Enda Muldoon, James Kielt (0-4,2f), Conleth Gilligan (0-1,f). Subs., Martin Donaghy (0-1) for Bateson 28; Kevin McCloy for Mullan 46; Emmet McGuckian for Gilligan 58; Gerard O’Kane for B McGoldrick, PJ McCloskey for Muldoon, both 61.
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)