'I never once thought we were going to get beaten'
REACTION FROM THE DONEGAL CAMP:From the moment Michael Murphy fisted Donegal into 2-10 to 0-10 lead, the photographers began to gather at the feet of Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher down in front of the Donegal bench. Even on a day when Donegal were coughing up more scoreable frees than they had all year, six points up with eight minutes to go felt to most people in the ground like a done deal.
Not to McGuinness though, not when Mayo were able to come forward and tack on two quick points. The snappers got a flea in their ear for their troubles.
“You could see the photographers coming in around you,” said McGuinness, “and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘The game’s still in the melting pot here’. I think Rory made a couple of yelps out of him to get them pushed back but there was still a lot of action going on, on the field. They were attacking very well, there was a lot of high, early ball going in and Aidan O’Shea ended up at the edge of the square for the final 10 minutes.
“So it was really the final whistle when that relief kicks in. The thing becomes a reality, it’s just a fantastic feeling. The scenes out there will live in my mind for the rest of my life. To be a part of it and be out on the pitch enjoying that. We started out on the 20th of May and it’s been a long, long road for these boys.
“And our performance level hasn’t really dipped all year, which is testimony to them and their mental strength as well. It would be easy to say we’re going to be good today and then take the foot off the pedal the next day but they haven’t done that, they’ve stayed very focused.
“They’ve stayed tuned in to what’s important all the way through the season and they’ve seen it out now and it’s just a fantastic feeling.”
This is what has consumed him, the stuff his adult life has been made of.
Brian McEniff spoke during the week of the fervour with which McGuinness harassed him when he went for the Donegal job the first time, the night he plopped his laptop on the McEniff kitchen table and showed him the world as he thought it could be. You don’t have to listen to him speak for very long before you see why young men follow him. When everything is positive, everything is possible.
“I’ve said to them over the last few weeks that I can see the cup in the front of the bus. Every morning I woke up I could see the cup in the front of the bus and that has become a reality now. Tonight will be great and tomorrow morning will be great. But the moment the door closes on the bus and I know we’re heading home with the cup on it, that is going to be the best journey those boys will ever be on in their life.
“That is the moment I am looking forward to. I am looking forward to seeing everybody going down the road, but more than anything, going into our own county with the cup. And that lift that it is going to give all those kids and all those old people in the county. I was in Letterkenny last week in the hospital and there were people who were very, very ill and they were standing up on their feet as we were leaving to wish us well, people that are really, really ill. That is humbling, the impact that it can have, and that is before we won it. So it is a very, very privileged position we are all in, to be part of it, and I am really looking forward to going home with the cup.
“I never once thought we were going to get beaten. I couldn’t go there. It’s just so far removed from this. I just didn’t want to go there. I kept believing what we were going to do and I kept working towards that and focusing on that.
“You get demotivated by negatives and that is something we have to focus on ourselves. It’s just so important that the visual in your own mind is positive all the time. You just work towards it. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win the match. It was just for myself to try and firewall myself and the players too.
“I never once thought about how it would feel to get beaten or the consequences of getting beaten or how the dressing room would be. I was just completely focused on what we have been doing and how we could improve it and driving that and create a situation where it would all work out.
“Thankfully for us today it has. But there will be another day when it won’t.” Sitting in Croke Park with Sam heading for the hills, that day feels a distance away.