Donegal may be in a league of their own, but no it's not rugby


TV VIEWJIM McGUINNESS must be dizzy. A year ago, after that semi-final against Dublin, Pat Spillane emoted: “Remember that tribe in Iraq, the Shiite tribe? Well, we’ve been watching Shiite football. There are people who go to the Hague for war crimes – I tell you this, some of the coaches nowadays should be up for crimes against Gaelic football.”

Twelve months on and Pat was gushing: “It’s great to see Donegal back after 20 years . . . it’s good for Gaelic football because it needs new teams at the top table . . . a brilliant performance. . .the players believe in the manager’s philosophy . . . they bought into it, they bought in to his work ethic, and it’s paying off.”

Granted, yesterday’s game was a bit livelier than last year’s, and Donegal’s display roughly 110 per cent better, but still, to go from the Hague to Hallelujah in that space of time must have left the Donegal manager’s head spinning.

Indeed, when he emerged to chat to RTÉ after the triumph over Cork, viewers might well have held their collective breath, assuming he’d jab his finger at the camera and tell Pat, Joe Brolly and Colm O’Rourke where to stick their pipes. But no, divil a sign of recrimination, he’d bigger things on his mind, such as Donegal’s first All-Ireland final in 20 years.

Before the game, Joe had suggested McGuinness had “reinvented Gaelic football” in a way that, if copied, would turn people off ever going to watch Gaelic football again, likening his side to a rugby league line-up.

Likening any sport to rugby league is as stinging as it gets, quite frankly.

By full-time he’d half-ish changed his tune, while qualifying his praise a touch by repeatedly telling us how “demoralising” a team Donegal are to play against, presumably meaning they obstinately don’t allow you to score many points.

But he couldn’t say enough about his new best friend, whose team, he said, “stank” Croke Park out last year.

“You cannot underestimate the genius it requires, the strength of personality, the charisma to create what he’s created . . . I’m not sure that ‘brilliant’ is a sufficient way to describe what Jim McGuinness has achieved with this group . . . they’re virtually impossible to beat. I’m not saying they’re unbeatable, but they’re not far off.”

“Huh,” McGuinness might have said, if he’d been watching the telly in the dressingroom rather than congratulating his ‘Taliban’ (copyright: Pat).

Over on BBC Northern Ireland they were no less befuddled, the channel having opted for a fair and balanced punditry approach to the Ulster v Munster affair by calling up Jarlath Burns (Armagh), Paddy Bradley (Derry), Mickey Harte (Tyrone) and Martin McHugh (Donegal) for the day that was in it.

“Predictions?” asked Austin O’Callaghan.

Jarlath: “Cork.”

Mickey: “Cork.”

Paddy: “Cork.”

Jarlath’s only concern about Cork’s prospects was that their routine semi-final preparations had been disrupted by the tall ships – “they’ve had to come in straight down the M50” – but he still reckoned it might be plain sailing for them, that they’d be too strong for Donegal.

Final whistle. “Well?” asked Austin, but his guests didn’t really know where – or how – to start.

Austin opted to give them time to ruminate, handing over to Thomas Kane in the bowels of Croke Park, the reporter, he told us, “busy giving Martin McHugh oxygen”.

In fairness, Thomas warned us in advance that Martin wasn’t entirely impartial, not only because he was a Donegal man, with a 1992 winning medal in his pocket, but also because he happened to be the Da of Mark, one of the fellas who’d been running around on the pitch in a Donegal jersey.

“It was probably the best performance ever from a Donegal team, and I include 1992,” he said, the voice quivering just a bit. “They’ve beaten Tyrone, Kerry and now Cork – and they’re still only in the final.”

True, you’d imagine medals should be handed out right now after that run, but there’s only Mayo/Dublin to go.

“But I really don’t care who it is in the final, Mayo or Dublin, I think Joe Brolly might be right for once: Sam’s heading for the Hills,” said Harte, by now convinced that the county that “stank” the place out a year ago would come up smelling of roses next month.

Back on RTÉ. “It’s fantastic for Donegal,” said O’Rourke. “They always feel a bit isolated up there in the north-west.”

After hearing what the pundits have had to say about their team, they probably don’t feel half isolated enough.

“When McGuinness emerged to chat to RTÉ after the triumph over Cork, viewers might have assumed he’d jab his finger at the camera and tell Pat Spillane, Joe Brolly and Colm O’Rourke where to stick their pipes

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