Jim McGuinness might’ve had his back to the wall in a literal sense as the dictaphones surrounded him like a swarm of bees but the Donegal manager was praiseworthy of the way his team fought their way out of a corner to seal a dramatic 2-6 to 0-9 win over Tyrone.
In the sultry atmosphere of Clones in a typically claustrophobic and tense Ulster championship semi-final, Donegal were slow to start as Mickey Harte’s Tyrone bossed the opening exchanges, going as much as 0-6 to 0-1 in front as half-time approached. Three late points, though, from Kevin Rafferty, Colm McFadden and Kevin Cassidy, though, meant the wheels of change began to churn as the half edged toward a conclusion.
And the spirit shown by the likes of Anthony Thompson, who, after his initial careless pass raced back 80 metres to put in the bravest of blocks as Stephen O’Neill drew to shoot for goal, epitomised the spirit and willingness of Donegal not to let the game escape them.
“Tyrone, early in the game, were putting on a masterclass and I’ve seen them do that on a number of occasions,” McGuinness said as he leaned against the inside wall of the St Tiernach’s Park tunnel. “We wanted to get our lads into the dressing room, sit them down and relax them and explain that all the things we were working on all year weren’t happening and needed to start happening.
“Tyrone got the run at us, and it was vintage Tyrone as well - the way they took the game to us, stretched the play all the time, used the ball intelligently and asked the questions of our defenders. They really were exceptional. We were doing all the opposite to Tyrone. To go in two points down was a bonus for us, considering how we’d played.”
“It was important just to get back to our tactics and forget about Tyrone and the place in the final. When we finally did that we got the bit of joy in the second half. We started to get some longer ball into the forwards and found some better shape and composure. And more than anything - better belief.”
Donegal felt their way into the second half, with Michael Murphy scoring almost from the restart but there were a number of punctuation points after the interval. Being one of the gamest Gaelic footballers in existence, Joe McMahon had quelled Murphy well before being replaced after a late Leo McLoone c hallenge and Tyrone were a weaker team as a consequence.
Kevin Hughes’s pair of yellows led to red and Donegal manufactured two late goals, the first of which Colm McFadden took on his unconventional right foot before Dermot Molloy rifled home with the trusty left in stoppage time.
“Nearly every single player on the pitch in the second half upped their performance, upped their intensity level, and upped their decision-making to a decent level,” McGuinness added. “We needed to get back to what had got us this far. We just start playing the way we can.
“The goal was always going to make a huge difference, and thankfully Colm and Dermot showed great composure in the way they finished, and that’s what got us through. People were shouting at Dermot to put the ball over the bar and take his point but not me. It’s about trust and in that situation he was excellent.
“It wasn’t a great game, but it was a real pressure cooker, and hopefully getting the result the way we did will stand to us going into the Ulster final. We certainly can’t complain about winning.”