FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES
JIM McGuinness hailed his history makers yesterday evening after Donegal retained the Ulster title with a cracking second-half performance.
Donegal powered to an eleven-point win that left Down stunned in Clones.
The old market town came alive as Donegal turned on the style with a scintillating second-half that will have sent ripples around the county.
For, make no mistake about it, this was a performance that game tied with a real message of intent from a Donegal team that now has serious designs on going the whole way to September.
Leo McLoone and Frank McGlynn hit the goals as they scored a 2-18 to 0-13 over a Down team that was without answers for much of the second-half.
“We have mentioned it a number of times that we are trying to do that on the scoreboard and trying to get our half-backs attacking,” said McGuinness.
“We are encouraging everyone to make a contribution.
“In the second-half there was a good connection between the forwards and the defenders.
“I felt the forwards were very unselfish and they gave other boys the chance to pop over points. That is what a team is all about.
“Winning the game is what is important. We were delighted with the team work we showed today. They all contributed.”
Subs Christy Toye, Martin McElhinney and Daniel McLaughlin all played their parts. McElhinney hit two points and, along with Toye, helped give Donegal a centrefield foothold, while McLaughlin also got in on the act.
In all, Donegal had eleven different scorers, with only three of their 2-18 haul coming from frees and they hit 1-13 in a devastating second-half.
“They have worked very hard for days like this,” McGuinness said.
“It’s hard to sum it up when you’re caught in the emotion of it all. I’ll have to watch it myself.”
Both teams struggle with the other’s runners in a first-half that took some time to open up. The teams were deadlocked at two apiece by the 20th minute, while Leo McLoone’s 31st minute goal edged Donegal 1-2 to 0-4 in front.
Leading 1-5 to 0-7 at the interval, Donegal’s gears clicked emphatically in the second-half with a 51st minute goal by McGlynn starting the Tir Chonaill party long before referee Joe McQuillan shrilled the whistle for the last time.
McGuinness said: “They were very, very hungry for it. After winning it last year, people were questioning that.
“They have continued to push and push. 2-18 is good kicking – especially in an Ulster final.
“If we had won by a point I’d be happy. Winning is the most important thing.”
Donegal are back in an All-Ireland quarter-final again and their credentials as potentials for the All-Ireland were significantly enhanced yesterday.
Asked if his side can now press on and take Sam Maguire, McGuinness said: “You have to believe that. If you didn’t there’d be no point in entering the competition.
“We have to prepare 100 per cent for the quarter-final and be competitive. That is what the focus must be – if you don’t win the quarter-final you can’t win the All-Ireland.”
History was made as Donegal became the first time to win consecutive Ulster titles from the preliminary round, while the win is also Donegal’s first ever back-to-back success in the province.
Karl Lacey yesterday also etched a little historical note of his own as he made a Donegal record 37th consecutive appearance – beating Michael Hegarty’s previous record.
Donegal now await one of the winners from the round four qualifiers in the draw which takes place next Monday, July 30th, at 8.30am live on RTE Radio 1.
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.