Ulster SFC Final
BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES
THE Hills came alive on Sunday night as Donegal captured their first Ulster title since 1992, a 1-11 to 0-08 win over Derry at St Tiernach’s Park seeing the Anglo Celt captured and a county sent into delirium.
Captain Michael Murphy scored a penalty early in the second-half to shoot Donegal to glory and the Glenswilly man climbed the steps to accept the silverware from Ulster Council President Aogán O Fearghail.
A nineteen-year wait has ended and the scenes that greeted the final whistle were a county outpouring years of pain, and five final defeats banished to history, the players having to prise their way through a sea of jubilant fans on the pitch to get up the steps of the Arthurs Stand.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling to be part of this group and to have bridged the 19-year gap,” said a delighted Jim McGuinness after the game.
“We were composed and used the ball well towards the end.
“I’m very happy to be associated with this team. They’re a team that wants to play and train hard. They’ve put in a lot of sacrifices and I’m enjoying working with them.
“We have to continue to work and keep making ourselves better if we want to keep moving forward. They’ll have this forever. They’ll be bonded by the medal and bonded by the journey.”
In winning, Donegal became only the second team in 66 years to win the title and McGuinness became just the second Donegal manager to guide a team to Ulster glory. As he was met by a swarm of dictaphones in the tunnel area, master embraced pupil, a proud look worn by Brian McEniff as he congratulated McGuinness, the baby of his historic crop of ’92.
It was also the first time a county other than Tyrone or Armagh won the title since 1998, when Derry beat Donegal. And it wasn’t the day for blasting his team’s critics.
“It’s not our position to answer critics, we just have to go and play football and do all the right things,” said McGuinness.
“We’re a group that is trying to achieve things and we’re focussed on trying to achieve things. Nobody else comes into it. We’ll not take pleasure into proving anybody wrong here today. We’ll take pleasure out of the fact that we played well on the day and won the big game.
“We were in level with the breeze and we were exactly where we wanted it to be.
“We were calm and we were composed. They stuck to the gameplan and seen it through. It’s a great feeling.”
Midfielder Kevin Rafferty didn’t make the team due to a groin injury, while an ankle injury forced Rory Kavanagh off after 33 minutes.
Big Neil Gallagher stepped up to the mantle in the engine room, while veteran forward Michael Hegarty gave a sublime performance that saw him finally win an Ulster title – at the fourth time of asking after defeats in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Donegal now move into the last eight and head to Croke Park for an All Ireland quarter-final on the first weekend in August.
“Of course they want an All Ireland, the same as everybody else,” said McGuinness.
“We’ll absorb this and then go to Croke Park as All Ireland Champions.
“It’ll be the same approach as the other games. We’ll sit down and look at the opposition and assess their strengths and weaknesses for that. It’s hard think about that now, but we’ll get back at it again on Tuesday night and revisit it.”