'The stakes were very, very high, in the players' minds'
It’s all beginning to make sense, the mind of Jim McGuinness as clear and readable right now as an open book. He’s got all of Donegal thinking back to 1992 by thinking forward, simple thoughts that defy and yet explain the intricacies of a result like this.
Three years ago, Donegal played Cork in an All-Ireland quarter-final and got wiped off the field, and here was the reverse – if not exactly on the scoreboard. Even in thinking about that McGuinness is only thinking forward, thinking out loud, and that anyone who didn’t think Donegal were good enough to win an All-Ireland might think otherwise now.
“I don’t think back on anything,” he says, “because it’s all about moving forward. There are two things at play here, and the first thing is to make every player we have a better player. Then we want to make our own goals as a team better, and that’s the only focus.
“And I think the players can improve. That’s our challenge, as coaches. You don’t have time to reflect, because the job is always in the future.
“But every single thing we’ve asked these players to do they’ve done. When I took over this job two years ago, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that said Donegal was a poisoned chalice, and these players would let me down.
“It has been the opposite in every way, in their commitment to the county jersey, and how they’ve brought the team on. I’m delighted they’re in an All-Ireland final now, on the back of all that.”
When he pauses to think about the meaning of this victory, McGuinness rates it as the high point of short career as manager: “I suppose so yes, but for the players, too. They’ve worked very hard the last two years . . . and it’s very satisfying when that work pays offs. I hope they can get over the line now.”
The Donegal manager is not short of thoughts or words, his 15-minute monologue of a reaction to this deserved win only briefly thinking back. “We were a bit lethargic in the first half,” he says, “but then the stakes were very, very high, in the players’ minds. But I think when we got them in at half-time, and got them thinking again about how we operate, what works for us, they took to that very well. There was more flow to our game, coming out of defence, and more of the half backs and midfield getting up the field, and we managed to tack on a good few scores.
“We did hit some wides, but we can’t give out about those things on a day like today. And look, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had we lost this game, but it’s no secret that we wanted to get more scores on the board this year, ask more questions of the opposition.
“These fellas have four of the best weeks of their lives ahead of them, but again we’ll have to try to improve on every aspect of their play, and prepare as best we can, leave no stone unturned. After that I just trust them to go out and do that job.
“And I am very, very proud of the lads. I think 20 years is too long for us not to be in an All-Ireland final. We’ve worked hard to get back there, and if we don’t get over the line it now it will be a huge disappointment.”