It took some time to come back to earth on Saturday evening after the tense occasion that was the Ulster semi-final meeting of Donegal and Tyrone.
With time ticking away - and deadlines being what they were for our Donegal On Sunday report, I left the press box and made my way down to the entry to the pitch, ready to get a few interviews from the victors - Donegal.
Many things were running through my mind . . . who would get man of the match. Colm McFadden, who had such a wonderful 15 minute period in the second half, was a candidate and he was close by as he had seen red in the mayhem that was going on out on the field in those closing stages.
But then Martin Penrose made the decision. His goalbound shot looked certain to have the teams back at the same venue for a replay before Big Papa intervened and his Size 15 left boot did the business.
The man of the match decision had been made.
The Four Masters No. 1 is rarely sought out for interviews after games, normally carrying his collection of goalkeeping equipment to the dressing rooms as his outfield colleagues get most of the glory. But on Saturday evening, the spotlight was rightly on Paul. With an array of reporters around him, he towered over them. In the middle of the interviews a very gracious Mickey Harte came over and shook his hand and said: “Great save, Paul.”
It is a measure of the Tyrone manager that he was able, amid the huge disappointment of losing out at the semi-final stage, to be able to congratulate Paul.
It was a fitting end to what was one of the most thrilling spectacles in this year’s Ulster championship. The tension that existed on the playing field was just as palpable in the stands and on the terraces.
There just didn’t seem to be that championship atmosphere which usually results with eruptions at different times for a tackle or a score. The tension seemed to inhibit the spectators from making the usual ‘championship noise’.
It would be good to see that vocal support for Donegal return when they play Down in the Ulster final on July 22nd. The players may need that vocal encouragement. They certainly deserve it.
The Donegal management and players did something that few Donegal teams have done in the past - carried a huge expectation into a big game and came out the other side with flying colours.
It was not without its flaws, but the result was the correct one as Donegal were the better team on the day
The areas of improvement which Jim McGuinness will surely be working on include the need to create goal chances. In the important games coming down the line, scoring 0-12 may not be enough, but given the nature and tenseness of Saturday night’s game, it was a pretty good return.
On the other side of the coin, Tyrone created three good goal chances with Paddy McGrath denying Mark Donnelly in the opening half; Stephen O’Neill got in behind the Donegal defence in the second period and was denied by the crossbar and then there was the Durcan save from Penrose.
Some analysts were pointing to five goal chances, but Joe McMahon’s effort in the opening half was only a half-chance while Stephen O’Neill’s other half-chance near the end was never likely to produce a goal as Donegal had him surrounded.
Apart from those two areas, the Donegal performance on Saturday was as complete as you would like, especially against such proven opposition as Tyrone.
They will now prepare for an Ulster final against Down with an even greater weight of expectation. The odds being offered for Donegal by the bookmakers are of the order of 1/4 or 2/9 with Down offered at 4/1. By any standards those are crazy, given Down’s pedigree.
The odds are prohibitive, but it won’t help the Donegal management with people saying that Donegal are unbackable.
As well as getting more vocal support off the field in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones on July 22nd, it would be beneficial for the team that supporters don’t get carried away with themselves.
After Monday night’s decision to postpone the senior and intermediate club championship, Jim McGuinness will get a free run to the Ulster final. Hopefully, most of those carrying injuries (most notably Neil McGee) will be fit and well for the decider.
The age-old chestnut of club versus county is being debated throughout the county since Monday night’s decision. It has been tossed about now for years and we seem to be nowhere nearer a solution.
Should Donegal advance to an All-Ireland semi-final, there is a likelihood that the club championship in Donegal may not be played until September at the earliest.
None of this can be blamed on Jim McGuinness, who should not be punished because Donegal are successful.
One of the solutions that would ease the mess which arises every year is to condense the provincial championships. At present the Ulster championship takes 11 weeks to complete, with games on the first seven weeks and a three week gap to the Ulster final.
In all this involves eight games, but surely this schedule could be condensed into a much tighter frametime.
An example for 2012, the Ulster championship could have been run over a six week period.
10 June - preliminary round
16/17 June - two quarter-finals
23/24 June - two quarter finals
7/8 July - two semi-finals
22 July: Final
This would give the month of May for counties to run off the preliminary rounds of their club championship. Having two quarter-finals on a Saturday and Sunday and having the semi-finals on the one weekend, would also give teams a level playing field of two weeks to prepare for the final.
The present situation - with the Ulster campaign being dragged out - is making it very difficult for counties that are successful any time for club football.
The above example would not be the complete solution, especially for the Donegal situation as we have this two-legged first round games, which can create problems with play-offs, etc. However, it would create a window where the club programme would have a chance. We have the situation this year where league titles and relegation, in some instances, could be decided before those clubs kick a championship ball.
I’m sure others will have different views and Provincial Councils have priorities such as finance. But this year two of Donegal’s games were played on Saturday evenings, so that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
I’m sure it’s not the last time that the club versus county topic will be discussed.