Donegal take a listing vessel and refloat it on a wave of thrilling proportions
By the business end, it was hard to argue with most of the eight teams left standing. Donegal, Mayo, Cork, Dublin, Kerry and Kildare would have been most people’s top six at the start of the year and so it proved, with Laois and Down the also-rans who plugged on the longest.
Kildare got trampled underfoot by Cork and Kerry got bounced by Donegal on the same afternoon.
Mayo came out ahead of Dublin in one nerve-jangler of a semi-final, Donegal simply broke Cork’s will in the other. For the signature score of the year, Mark McHugh scooped up spilled possession from Donncha O’Connor after the Cork inside-forward ran out of support 20 metres from the Donegal goal. Three passes and 80 metres later, McHugh was punching the ball over the bar under the Davin Stand.
It was the 35th minute of the All-Ireland semi-final and from there until the end of the year Donegal were never once behind. Indeed, the only time they weren’t ahead was the three minutes it took at the start of the final for Murphy to score the opening goal. They were the alpha, the omega and everything in between. It was a pleasure to watch.
Winter falls and we all start to wonder anew. The club championships have thrown up some of the best football of the year, with Dublin’s Ballymun Kickhams and Roscommon’s St Brigid’s sure to spend the Christmas taking umbrage at us all warming our cockles with loose talk of Crossmaglen and Dr Crokes on Paddy’s Day. Godspeed to them if they can shake us from cosy presumption.
If they need any inspiration, they need look no further than the men from the hills. When McGuinness took over, one newspaper ranked Donegal 19th in the country.
You’re not supposed to go from there to All-Ireland champions in two years, just as Brigid’s and Ballymun aren’t supposed to get in the way of Cross and Crokes next spring. But there’s nothing to say that’s how it has to be.
Doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative, after all.
Highs and lows
Donegal v Kerry,
The sheer whizz bangery of Donegal meeting and beating Kerry for the first time ever takes the cake.
Mayo v Dublin; Armagh v Tyrone
Mayo v Sligo,
Donegal. Plain and simple.
Their games thrummed, their support fizzed and their players never, ever stopped.
Tipperary in the qualifiers; Crossmaglen.
Seánie Johnston. By turns annoying, attritional and absurd, it ended with a minute’s club hurling in Clane on a Saturday afternoon. Like any good saga, it went on far too long and made far too many people far too angry.