McGuinness encouraged by younger players as his side pushes for a piece of history
POST-MATCH TALK:Attention to detail has become paramount for Donegal under Jim McGuinness but he couldn’t have foreseen the drama that occurred as his players went through their warm-up exercises on Saturday. First Michael Murphy and then corner back Paddy McGrath pulled up with hamstring twinges. Then Neil McGee hit the ground and went through a series of stretches minutes before the throw-in.
“It was a bit of a disaster. We were doing a warm-up and Paddy McGrath and Michael Murphy both turned hamstrings and then Neil felt his. We were thinking it was a melt down. The other boys soldiered on but Neil had to come off.
“In relation to Leo (McLoone), it was a hard call. We felt the last day with three up and Michael on the 40 it would give us a good platform but we knew from early on it wasn’t going to be afforded to us and it was going to be a different game.”
But apart from that drama, the day went along expected lines. The Ulster semi-final was like a particularly cagey heavyweight duel between opponents who know each other’s repertoire inside out.
“Once they set up with seven in defence we knew that would be the challenge and they obviously had a lot of work done on the training field to make it difficult for us. I have to say I am very happy with the younger lads. It was encouraging.
“At half-time I said we had to play with more width and depth and ask questions and get our players in the right areas of the field to take advantage if we could create openings. And the more the game went on we were able to open it up more and the younger guys being able to come through in that situation . . . it was very positive.”
McGuinness shook his head when asked about the challenge Down would present in the Ulster final. “I don’t want to start talking about Down. I’m bamboozled with Tyrone. There is a few breaths to be taken in the next few hours. But from day one I made my intentions clear: I always had great belief in the Ulster championship and the players are the same. It’s the only championship in town when you are in it.
“These boys now will have three of the best weeks of their lives on the training field with the opportunity where they can go back-to-back in Ulster for the first time in the history of the county.”
Tyrone pushed hard and although Mickey Harte was disappointed with the result, he was pleased with his team and rejected the idea the game had been tough to watch. “If you say it was tough to watch it depends what you are looking for in a game. I didn’t find it tough to watch, I found it intriguing. We both knew how we would set up and we mirrored each other very much. And it was a different kind of game but I don’t necessarily see it as a bad game, I see it as intriguing.
“We did create enough chances in the first half to be more than one ahead and the fact that we weren’t didn’t say we were throwing in the towel but we weren’t in as good a position as we should have been.
“When Donegal had their purple patch, they made it pay. We gifted them a point and they got three more and when you open up that kind of lead in a game like that, it is a huge lead.
“On many days four points wouldn’t be that big a lead but it was huge today. I have to say full credit to our boys: they tried to conjure up something out of this game and I do believe that nine times out of 10 Martin Penrose’s shot would have been in the net.
“We still have plenty of good players,” added Harte.
“And we will be around for a little while.”