McGuinness vindicated as Donegal do it when it matters
DURING the spring, Donegal supremo Jim McGuinness made it something of a habit to remind everyone that May 26 was the only day that mattered.
The league, he had mentioned, was 'irrelevant', so too the fact that his team was relegated from the top flight.
When May 26 came, his team sent a message ringing through the Gaelic football world. For a third year in a row now they have toppled Tyrone and they are odds-on to retain the Anglo-Celt in July.
"Tyrone really had us in their sights and that's the most satisfying thing for us. Tyrone have been preparing for this day for the same length of time as ourselves," McGuinness said after the six-point win.
For the All-Ireland winning manager, this defeat of Tyrone did not overtake any of the previous two in terms of its significance.
He said: "Every championship game to me is very special. The game against Antrim (2011), a game you people (the media) went to town on, was very satisfying because it was about getting over the line in championship football.
"We have done that today and it gives us four weeks now to prepare for Derry or Down in the semi-final. That is where our focus lies now and we'll forget about this after tonight and refocus on the opposition."
Colm McFadden netted in the first half and Ross Wherity's first touch of a championship football netted the second in the 49th minute. Wherity's emergence had been a big plus for Donegal in the league – and he helped influence a big finish from Donegal yesterday.
"The short version would be that he changed the game," McGuinness said. "It was a situation where Tyrone were getting the better of us in the middle of the park.
"They were getting under Neil Gallagher, trying to stop him from jumping and they had three men in the pocket to pick up breaks.
"When Ross came in he started to pick up the breaks and started to use the ball really well. He brought the fight to them."
The sides had been level when Wherity came on, along with 2012 Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey. Mark McHugh had been kept in reserve with Lacey, and McGuinness revealed the thinking behind using these aces from the bench.
He said: "I wanted to finish with the strongest team and I wanted to finish with the quality on the pitch that could see the game out. It turned out that way.
"We had really good decision-makers on the pitch in the last 20 minutes. That took us over the line."
Niall Morgan buckled in Ballybofey's pressure cooker yesterday, scoring just once on a day when the Edendork man kicked four wides and dropped another short. Donegal spooked the goalkeeper, employing three players to stand in his line of vision as he stood before his kicks.
It all left Mickey Harte distinctly unimpressed. "There are plenty of officials around the place to know what 13 metres look like and I think it is time that they started to count a wee bit better," he said.
Yesterday's was Tyrone's first defeat in the opening round since Down defeated them in 2008 – and they won the All-Ireland that year.
Harte said: "If we draw somebody that we can get a result from and begin to build a bit of momentum then we've been to that place before and we will try and do our best."
Tyrone lost confidence after they fell behind to Wherity's goal – and never recovered.
Harte added: "In the final analysis I suppose we did tend to look like we believed it was a lost cause because Donegal had got that vital second goal and things were going well for them.
"We had then to try and score a goal ourselves, and to try for a goal with a defensive set-up that Donegal have usually isn't a very profitable exercise."
Donegal march on again. McGuinness' eggs had all been placed in the basket marked 'May 26' since the draw pitted these great rivals together back in October.
"In the last two years the exact same thing was said," the Donegal manager pointed out. "The only difference this year was that we were relegated.
"There was a lot of talk about putting all the eggs into one basket, but it was the same last year and the same the year before. That's what we do – it's championship football.
"It will be no different next year. It was a media spin that got the whole debate going.
"Next year we will put all our eggs in that basket again."