There was a mixture of delight and relief after Donegal’s narrow 2-6 to 0-9 over Tyrone at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on Sunday in a game that went right to the wire and was eventually decided by Dermot Molloy’s stoppage time goal.
McHugh over the moon
Donegal’s man of the match Mark McHugh was very happy at the end of Sunday’s game.
“It’s brilliant. I’m over the moon. It was tough hard going out there but we came through in the end,” said McHugh.
“The goals clinched it for us and were the big scores, but it was tough going right to the finish. We were in trouble early on and we realised at half-time that were lucky to be only two down and still in the game.
“But we also felt at half-time that we had them and were happy that we were going to have the fitness on them to carry us through to win. We are a young team with young legs while they have been around a long time and have a lot of hours on the clock and we felt if we were still in it with 15 minutes to go that we would win.
“Colm’s (McFadden) goal really opened it up and we were in the lead for the first time while Dermot’s goal clinched it. We knew when Dermot scored that we had them and it was going to be our day.
“But it was tough going. Tyrone are a good side and we’re not going to go down without a fight.
“They were much the better team in the first half and we were lucky that they did not put on a few scores on the board in the first half. The three points we scored before half-time were very important scores and meant that we were just two behind instead of being five down. It is brilliant to have won and to be looking forward to playing Derry in the final.”
Murphy elated with Ulster final place
After a 2-14 to 1-7 hammering the last time Donegal played Tyrone in Clones, then manager Brian McIver gambled by throwing an untried 17-year-old Glenswilly forward into the fray in the qualifiers in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Michael Murphy was well enough known within the county but that night against Leitrim he scored a goal on his debut and his prominence has continued to grow since. Four years on, Murphy is Donegal captain and a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday. On Sunday evening bore a broad smile having played a huge hand in both his side’s goals in their 2-6 to 0-9 win over Tyrone in St Tiernach’s Park.
“I delighted, elated and over the moon,” he said on the middle of the pitch whilst obtaining hefty pats on the back from his teammates. “It’s great to win a game in the way we did and great to do it against a great team like Tyrone. It’s just nice to get over it.”
Donegal had beaten Antrim and Cavan in their opening two fixtures in the Ulster championship without breaking into much of a sweat but the real test was said to be on Sunday against Mickey Harte’s Tyrone, who were going for a provincial three-in-a-row. Donegal, though, came though a stringent examination.
“This was the big test that everyone was on about and Tyrone certainly put it up to us. We’re just thankful to have come through a very though game. We’re going to up against a very good Derry side, as they showed against Armagh. But we’ll regroup and get over it and get heads back down for training ahead of the game against Derry.”
Curran explains half-time plight
Donegal mentor Maxi Curran was put on the spot by BBC Radio Ulster’s Gerard Treacy at the end of the game when he was asked if Jim McGuinness was calm at half-time after Donegal had been slow out of the blocks in the opening half.
“Jim is a funny individual. He is a concoction of calm and the storm all in the one. We didn’t lose our cool. He just told them what they were doing wasn’t acceptable and if they carried on the way they were going they were going to be out of the Ulster championship this evening,” said Maxi
“In fairness in the second half they got stuck in and imposed their will on Tyrone.
“When you go out on a football field there are a lot of things outside your control, but the one thing you can determine is how hard you work and the level of effort you put in and that’s what Jim (McGuinness) has instilled in these boys - to go to the final whistle,” was how Donegal mentor Maxi Curran summed up Donegal’s victory on Sunday.
“They were slow starting but in the second half it was a combination of many things in the second half including this willingness that Jim has instilled in them to no accept defeat. We mentioned Anthony Thompson’s block when he kicked the ball away on their ‘45’ but sprinted back to save a certain goal. Somebody mentioned that it could have been a certain goal and lights out for us.
“It’s wee things like that that turn games. In fairness I think this is our day and the boys worked really, really hard for this. We didn’t play well and made a lot of mistakes. We have a massive game ahead of us now against Derry, but it was such a major achievement to get over this Tyrone team,” said Maxi. “They have been the benchmark but it’s a monkey off our backs.”
As for the final, Maxi said they would sit down now and plan for Derry. “They were very impressive last week against Armagh. When you see their forwards last wee, we know we have a massive challenge on our hands.”
Perseverance the key for McGee
Neil McGee’s reputation as a tower of strength at full-back continued its upward trend with a dominant showing against Stephen O’Neill and Tyrone in Sunday’s dramatic Ulster semi-final win.
After convincing wins over Antrim and Cavan in their opening two outings, Donegal’s championship was set to start for real on Sunday against a Tyrone team who have won three All-Irelands since 2003. McGee and his team mates were staring down the barrel at 0-6 to 0-1 down after less than half an hour as the difference between the standards of the teams was clear to see. The Gaoth Dobhair defender expressed his belief that Donegal weathered the storm without losing faith – something which has blighted numerous showings in recent history – and were rewarded in stoppage time when Dermot Molloy struck a match-winning goal. It was just reward for a refusal to throw in the towel, even after the uncomfortable opening.
“We’re delighted and I think we rode our luck a little bit but we might deserve it after all those years,” McGee said. “We just got the rub of the green. The one thing about this team is that we keep going. In other years we might’ve put the head down after going down by five points but we just kept going and going.”
Perhaps the most important phases of play took place as the half was drawing to a close. Donegal managed to tag over three unanswered points at a stage in the game when they were getting outplayed, but were much the more economical in this hard times.
“We managed to get a few points before the end of the first half so the heads were up at the break. It looked to be going towards a draw but we had the right man on the ball at the very end there - ‘Brick.’ We’ll not get carried away with this win and know we have a very tough game coming up against Derry so we’ll just keep the head down see how it goes.
Fourth time lucky for McFadden?
Colm McFadden intends to keep his feet firmly on the ground as he looks forward to a fourth Ulster final involvement with Donegal.
The St Michael’s clubman played a pivotal role in his side’s 2-6 to 0-9 win over three-time All-Ireland champions Tyrone on Sunday with a well-taken opening goal on 56 minutes to put Donegal in front for the first time after being set up by the galloping Karl Lacey. However, having been thrice bitten after losing three finals against Armagh, McFadden knows wins like Sunday’s are just steps on the ladder. He is the only member of the present Donegal panel to have played in the three losing Ulster finals, against Armagh in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
McFadden has been one of the bloodlines of the county team for the last decade and with his brother-in-law Jim McGuinness now in charge Donegal are making progress. Perhaps, with his experience, McFadden might’ve been content enough to take a point if faced with the proposition Dermot Molloy did one-on-one with Pascal McConnell in stoppage time with the sides level. McFadden, though, believed the bravery shown by his attacking colleague ultimately proved the correct deicision.
“It’s a great feeling now. We really had to dig deep there in the second half to pull ourselves in front there. It was great to see ‘Brick’ get the goal there at the end. I was hoping that he would take a point but when the man was going through I knew that he was going to go for goal. I suppose we are lucky in a way that he went for goal because Tyrone could’ve went up the field and got a point, so the goal gave us that little bit of a cushion we needed.
“It was a test but at the end of the day we’re only back in the Ulster final. And we’ve been in Ulster finals before so this game against Derry will be a bigger test again and it’s important we win that one as well.
McGrath relieved to get to Ulster final
Donegal corner back Paddy McGrath said that he was glad to get to the dressing rooms just two points down at half-time.
But the Ardara man was very happy with the way they stuck to their task in the second half and hung in and kicked the goals to clinch the win and a first Ulster final appearance since 2006.
“We were in trouble early on and they were all over us and possibly they should have been further ahead than 0-6 to 0-1, but we hung on and then kicked the few late points at the end of the half to be just two down at half-time,” said McGrath.
“Those few points before half-time were important scores; otherwise in a tight game five or six points might have been too big a mountain to climb.
“The second half was all about matching them score for score and staying in touch and hopefully finishing strong and that is the way it turned out and we got the goals to clinch it.
“It was tough going and very demanding in the last ten minutes or so because the game was so tight and we did not want to give away anything. It looking as if we were heading for a draw and extra-time and then Brick (Dermot Molloy) got the goal to win it.
“We are now in the Ulster final and we will go back and evaluate and look at today’s performance and look at ways of improving for Derry and being ready for the final.”
“Great to get over the line” - Hegarty
It was a pure battle but it’s good to get over and get to another Ulster final. It will be a chance to put a lot of wrongs right,” said Kilcar’s Michael Hegarty just after the final whistle.
“We should have been further behind at half-time. Tyrone were far the better team in the first half. I suppose we got a bit of luck and were still in it at half-time. I suppose we got things together and started to work a bit harder and when you do that you will never be far away,” said Michael.
Hegarty agreed that the Donegal defence was magnificent in the opening half and the last ditch block by Anthony Thompson was a turning point.
“That was a fabulous block by Thompson. It just shows you that mistakes will be made. I think McEniff used to say if you weren’t making mistakes, you weren’t playing. There were plenty of mistakes there today but you have to keep going. We hung in there and we got the breaks and that’s what its all about.
“We have six unbelievable defenders and they were working really hard and I suppose where you play now, you’re a defender,” said Michael.
The Kilcar man had high praise for Tyrone. “They are a super team. That’s why they’ve been there and done that. We only can learn from teams like that and it’s great to play them and get on the right side of the result. We can only improve and we can look forward now to an Ulster final and it’s great to have a good rattle at it now. “Hopefully we can get big numbers to that game and it’s great to hear the bagpipes there again,” said Michael. “There are some days when you get the breaks; you seen Derry last week, they got all the breaks and the scores at the right time. You need that to win matches. It’s just great to get over the line,” said Hegarty.