One that was able to be celebrated in style

For the first time ever, Donegal supporters were able to savour success in the final quarter of an important game.

For the first time ever, Donegal supporters were able to savour success in the final quarter of an important game.

It was like a surfer being on the crest of a wave, and it lasted for a full half hour. So much so that the younger brigade were chomping at the bit to get on to the field as the Joe McQuillan’s final whistle was awaited.

The bookies were right in the end. The 2/9, 1/4 and finally 2/7 against Donegal was borne out in one of the best ever displays by the Tir Chonaill men in front of a full house of just short of 35,000 in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones.

There must have been close on 20,000 green and gold clad Donegal supporters in the ground and they were able to enjoy the celebrations and join with the players in a never to be forgotten day.

I had an email from Feargal McGill on Tuesday saying that his father, ‘The Follower’ would have revelled at the two in-a-row.

Cormac, I’m sure was there in spirit and he will already have the three in-a-row included on the list for the Novenas for 2013.

It was a day of firsts and the two in-a-row tops them. Then you have the three McGee brothers picking up Ulster winners’ medals on the same day. Has that ever happened before?

Who would have dreamt that Donegal would win an Ulster championship final and Michael Murphy would have just 0-1 beside his name?

If ever the team ethic was to the fore, then it is with Donegal this year. Last year the county picked up three All-Stars at the end of the year - their biggest haul since 1992 - Neil McGee, Karl Lacey and Kevin Cassidy, with Michael Murphy unlucky to lose out.

If the gongs were being handed out at the end of July, Frank McGlynn, Ryan Bradley, Paul Durcan and Mark McHugh would probably be at top of the list with Colm McFadden also in the running. Five different contenders to the four of 2012.

At this stage also the first four mentioned are the main contenders for Ulster Player of the Year with Frank McGlynn the frontrunner after four very consistent championship outings. His silky skills and smooth acceleration make him almost impossible to stop on forward runs. His goal on Sunday was taken with the assurance of a corner forward, and they make them tough in Glenfin, as Kalum King found out to his cost.

Ryan Bradley has been a revelation in the Donegal jersey after an average league campaign. He was troubled with a virus before the opening game with Cavan and had to come off before half-time but he has been in the top two for man of the match in the Derry, Tyrone and Down games. Being asked to fill in at midfield has only whetted his appetite and on current form, it would be a matter of who would partner Bradley when picking the Donegal centre field pairing.

Mark McHugh is still playing the same role as last year, but with much more attacking flair. It is a difficult role but he has the engine for it and like many of the players, the Kilcar man has refined his ball carrying skills to make him even more effective for the team.

But it is the belief that has been instilled and nurtured in the group of players which has seen them improve again on 2011. Belief that is manifested in Declan Walsh being the find of the season. The Malin man impressed against Armagh in the final league game but he had to wait his chance in the championship. When it came he has grabbed it with both hands, and his two points on Sunday show that he also has the engine and the confidence to play an even greater role in this Donegal team. The timing of his forward runs on Sunday were magical but it was his surge through the last few remnants of the Down defence when he was released that was encouraging. He could have gone for goal on at least one of those occasions and he will take great self-belief from being involved in an encounter like that.

On Sunday it was Declan Walsh and Frank McGlynn who took the headlines in defence, but there were other runs made by Paddy McGrath, Karl Lacey and Anthony Thompson which could have yielded scores. Aaron Kernan on The Sunday Game on RTE highlighted the runs of Thompson when he was not found with a pass. Apart from his shot off target, he could have been in for three other goal chances.

That is what makes Donegal 2012 so much better than Donegal 2011. After the Tyrone game I felt that we needed to create more goal chances. On Sunday we created a bagful. To go the extra mile we will have to be clinical with the ones we do create. It could make the difference.

As Jim McGuinness pointed out on the Diamond in Donegal Town (after he had been declared a Freeman by Mayor Conaghan), it is difficult to know where the journey will end.

It is still well short of two years since McGuinness took charge of affairs and if the journey is anything like that which we have travelled over the last 18 months, then we should begin to dream.

Roll on the quarter-final draw at the weekend!