Sam heads for the hills as Donegal turn perceived football wisdom on its head
IN 100 YEARS’ time the roll of honour will show Donegal won the All-Ireland football championship for the second time. But the result of yesterday’s high-wire and deeply tense September showpiece was just the final step on a miraculous journey completed by Glenties man Jim McGuinness and the players from the northwest.
In two years Donegal have come from nothing and nowhere to sweep the board. In doing so they patented a game filled with dark magic and have turned much perceived football wisdom on its head.
If there was a cruel twist to one of the most unexpected fables in Gaelic games, it was that Mayo, the county cursed by too many empty Septembers, once again discovered that this was not their year. The final score was 2-11 to 0-13, a tooth- and-nail scrap from first to last.
“I said to them over the past few weeks that I could see the cup in the front of the bus,” McGuinness said after the team had finally left the pitch in Croke Park after a euphoric victory lap. “But the moment the door closes on that bus and I know we are heading home . . . that is going to be the best journey that these boys will ever be on in their life. That is the moment I am looking forward to.”
In what was one of the most novel and highly anticipated All-Ireland finals for years, nothing turned out quite the way people thought it would. In the hours before the throw-in, the streets and pubs around the Jones’s Road cathedral were heavy with expectation from both sets of supporters.
Mayo people came to the city with a quiet conviction that a green-and- red team could win back the Sam Maguire for the first time since 1951. Donegal people arrived with the odd sensation of having their team as favourites.
Yesterday the Ulster men got a fantasy start when Michael Murphy, the team talisman and captain, fired a sensational goal after just three minutes. When Colm McFadden added another, it seemed as if Mayo’s world was about to cave in again. Another September nightmare loomed. But this is a different Mayo side: they are helplessly stubborn and tough. They made a fight of it until the end and they at least made sure that if it had to be a defeat, it was just that.
It was nothing to add to the mythology of Mayo’s deathless obsession with winning the big silver cup. But that quest goes on. Today Mayo head west to nurse the latest wound.
The Donegal men embark on the sweetest journey of all. They are the All-Ireland champions that nobody saw coming – until it was too late.