Donegal’s aim to win a third successive Ulster championship remains on track following a match synonymous with the northern province.
Down aren’t traditionally your stereotypical Ulster team and in front of 21,715 at Breffni Park yesterday it was obvious James McCartan had tailored his tactics to employ the more standardised approach from the province.
It was a fiercely fought yet clean battle but although Jim McGuinness’s team weren’t at their best and had to think on their feet on occasions, it was still a credible victory.
“It was game of turnovers,” he said afterwards into the swarm of dictaphones. “It was a game of heart and work rate. You’d have to say our boys didn’t really lose our composure. They kept to the task and worked hard the whole way through it.
“There was a lot of nonsense talked in the lead up to the game. There was a lot of talk about big winning margins and it was complete and utter nonsense.”
With Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher unavailable to start with knee injuries, meaning the current Footballer of the Year missed a first championship match in nine years, Donegal’s experience was further diluted when Ryan Braldey and Frank McGlynn were withdrawn.
“We had Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher out from before the game and then we lost Ryan Bradley and Frank McGlynn, both to concussion, so they would be four strong leaders of ours on the field of play,” McGuinness added. “When you take four or five out of it who are usually leaders on the team, to find a way to win in those circumstances is the most pleasing aspect.
“We worked really hard and it was a big shot in the arm for the younger lads to come in and play in that sort of an atmosphere before a packed house at Breffni Park.”
Patrick McBrearty, man of the match in the 2-10 to 0-10 win over Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final, kicked a fine score in the first half but was hampered with a dental problem, an abscess that required a Cootehill dentist at 10pm on Saturday night as the Donegal panel stayed at the Slieve Russell Hotel.
“He had a problem with his tooth for the last couple of days,” McGuinness said of the 19-year-old. “His energy and focus were affected - it wasn’t great preparation for him.”
In three years, McGuinness has seen his team win 10 matches from 10 in Ulster.
It’s a remarkable record, especially when it’s considered Donegal failed to win one in the three years prior to his appointment.
“The most important thing is that we won the game and we found a way to win the game,” McGuinness said of Down. “It was a game where we were very much tested and challenged. People were saying ‘has Donegal got the bottle’, I could feel that coming from the stand and it was a very good challenge for our players.”