The Anglo Celt Cup will take up residence in Donegal for another 12 months, following a comprehensive performance from Jim McGuinness’ side against Down in the Ulster final on Sunday.
There was no denying Donegal’s confidence, as they strolled around the field with a swagger that suggested they were in an uncompromising mood.
Down played with the wind in the first half, however they struggled to settle initially, with the Donegal defence well on top.
While the semi-final against Tyrone had been a battle of intensity and passion, Sunday’s game was about patience and control, as Donegal tried to contain the Down attack.
Donegal were struggling to gain a foothold at midfield, with the absence of big Neil Gallagher lamented on the sideline. It’s remarkable that the Glenswilly man wasn’t even a permanent starter in the team before last year’s Ulster final, and now he is one of their most important players.
Leo McLoone showed his composure to finish off a brilliant move with a goal, but Down responded quickly with two points. The tension on The Hill was rife, as Down pierced holes through the Donegal rearguard.
Down were enjoying their best spell in the game, with Conor Laverty to the fore. His slight build had more in common with the leg of a chair than the leg of an inter-county footballer, stated one frustrated Donegal follower, as the referee gave him free after free.
A key moment arrived as Kalum King ran into Frank McGlynn. The cage fighter from Down had a few stone to spare on the Glenfin man, but his big hit did more damage to himself than McGlynn. The wing back’s response was emphatic. He was straight back on his feet, prepared for any physicality Down provided, and ready to give it back twice as hard.
Donegal were not at their best, but two points from the marauding Malin man, Declan Walsh, helped them go into the half-time break with a slender one point advantage.
Martin McElhinney’s introduction was vital, as Donegal returned to the field as a rejuvenated team. With their midfield problems rectified, Donegal drove at the Mourne men.
Down tried hard, but the game was over as a contest when Murphy superbly found McGlynn, who hammered the ball past the helpless McVeigh. Colm McFadden pointed soon after, leading to one Donegal fan insisting he could smell the victory.
Down’s confidence evaporated and it looked like half of Creeslough were going to score, as Donegal crushed James McCartan’s team. McFadden, McElhinney and Daniel McLaughlin all kicked points, with Down limited to occasional counter-attacks.
McQuillan blew the final whistle and a sea of green and gold transcended onto the St Tiernach’s Park turf to salute Michael Murphy and his Ulster conquering teammates.
The Gardai and stewards tried to keep the Donegal fans off the field, but as the Down men had found out for the previous seventy minutes, it’s very hard to stop Donegal folk when they’re in the mood.
The first team to ever win back-to-back Ulster titles from the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship, Donegal and their supporters will now bring their pace, vigour, and colour to Croke Park for the quarter-finals on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
It’s a great time to be from Donegal.