Jim McGuinness thrilled as Donegal dig deep to conquer

Donegal boss hails hard-earned Ulster triumph over Monaghan as ‘our best victory’

Donegal’s Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye, Colm McFadden and David Walsh celebrate winning the Anglo-Celt Cup. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Inpho/Presseye

Donegal’s Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye, Colm McFadden and David Walsh celebrate winning the Anglo-Celt Cup. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Inpho/Presseye

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 01:01

Old Ulster is dead. In other decades, Donegal came and went like mayflies in the northern theatre but yesterday they won the Anglo-Celt Cup for the third time in four years. In doing so, they avenged last year’s brilliant coup by Monaghan.

It was a clammy full-house here of 31, 912 – and the stewards declared that they could have sold another 8,000 tickets – with not a breath of wind in the old park.

Blood and dust was the order of the day; the superb point-taking of Patrick McBrearty and the sweet, streetwise running game of the latest McHugh to star for Donegal were among the more refined pleasures.

Donegal led from the first bell until the last and Monaghan got inside their shirts but not their minds here.

It finished 0-15 to 1-9, wartime rationing in comparison to the sumptuous scoreline which drifted towards mid-Ulster from Croke Park.

But none of that mattered. This was local in every sense. The Donegal men celebrated almost as fiercely as they played: it was clear that this afternoon was about deeper than the prize on offer.

Maybe it was the rush in the aftermath but when Jim McGuinness was asked about the importance of the game in the bedlam of the tunnel afterwards, he said he felt that this triumph exceeded even the All-Ireland win of 2012.

“I think it’s our best victory in terms of the questions that were being asked of us and what was being said about us, and had the boys got the stomach for it. I think they proved today. I think it’s our best victory because of the circumstances and because what surrounded it.

Sacred triumph

“We went into the All-Ireland final after winging Ulster, beating Kerry and beating Cork and we won our All-Ireland.

“Here, we were absolutely wrote off a week out from the Derry match and we’re Ulster champions today. We were demoralised in Croke Park in the quarter-final last year. So to go from that point to put in a performance . . .”

His words trailed off. If placing a third Ulster title in four seasons over the sacred triumph of an All-Ireland title seems contrary, it has to be placed in context. When Donegal were emphatically relieved of their Ulster and All-Ireland titles last summer, they were dismissed as yesterday’s news. A change in the backroom team last October was interpreted as evidence of an unhappy camp.

The spring departure of Mark McHugh, the brightest star during Donegal’s emergent news, was offered as final evidence that the usual discontent had returned to the Northwest. But yesterday evening, Ryan McHugh rapped his palms off the low roof in delight as he made his back to the victorious dressing room after 70 razor-sharp minutes. He has an Ulster medal now to match his father Martin’s and the two his absent brother has.

First time

No Donegal team had beaten a Monaghan championship outfit since McHugh seniors’ bunch did so in the blazing summer of 1983. This was the first time Monaghan lost a match in Clones in 16 games.

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