SUNDAY in Clones was another day for the memory bank. The four-year Jim McGuinness odyssey has provided a generation of Donegal followers with more landmark days than in the previous three decades lumped together. We’ve the good fortune to be living through the Golden Age of Donegal football. Sunday’s absorbing triumph over Monaghan – the second best side in Ulster and one of the best in the country – saw Donegal lift the Anglo-Celt for the third time in four summers. That’s a truly phenomenal achievement by any standards and one unmatched by great Donegal sides of the past.
On the pitch afterwards, sheer pride radiated from Donegal folk like steam rising off cattle during a summer shower. You could feel the pride lingering heavy in the air. As Donegal folk, young and old, greeted each other like long lost relatives down in front of the Gerry Arthur Stand, there was a sense of delight that Jim and his boys had comprehensively, irrevocably, put the ghosts of 2013 to rest. These boys – whom Donegal followers care for like family – did not deserve to lose their All-Ireland crown in the manner in which they did last year. Injuries and fatigue made them vulnerable, allowing first Monaghan and then Mayo, tear gaping holes in the reputation of team and manager.
Donegal folk were heart-broken for Jim and the boys. No allowance was made nationally for the decimation injury visited upon their plans. Jim and Donegal were dismissed as one-trick ponies. Burnt out. Sunday was about redemption – about reminding the nation that 2013 was a blip. Normal service has been resumed and the scenes on the pitch afterwards were that of a whole county giving thanks that this team’s merited and richly deserved status as one of the greats of the modern era has been restored.
Sunday’s battle was epic but, in this column’s opinion, Donegal were as comfortable in their victory as Monaghan were twelve months ago. Even when Monaghan – against the run of play – scored their 49th minute goal to make it a one-point game, Donegal restored their authority and the margin between the sides in a matter of minutes . . . coolly, calmly and with no drama.
Hurler was seated right on the sideline. At one stage a wasp blundered onto a spider’s web on the wire in front of Hurler – the spider was out of his lair like a shot but the wasp somehow struggled free and took off like Usain Bolt. The spider and the wasp was halfway to being a fitting metaphor for the game – Jim McGuinness’ carefully laid web tied Monaghan up in knots but, unlike the wasp, they could not wriggle themselves free. Donegal dictated this game from the throw-in and although Monaghan bullied Donegal out of their Ulster title last year, that was simply not going to happen 12 months on. Full stop.
To read more from ‘The Hurler on the Ditch’ click here.