BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES
JIM McGuinness hailed Sunday’s Ulster final win over Monaghan as the best victory of his tenure.
McGuinness has just led Donegal to their most successful period in history with three Ulster titles now to go alongside an All-Ireland in 2012.
It’s three Ulsters in four campaigns for McGuinness, who has won thirteen of the fourteen matches he’s managed in the province.
Put down as a beaten docket after Monaghan snatched the Anglo-Celt last July, just two weeks before Mayo lowered their colours in a forgettable All-Ireland quarter-final, Donegal returned themselves as contenders for the big prizes with a superb display.
“I think it’s the best victory that we’ve had,” McGuinness said.
“We were really questioned and we were absolutely wrote off a week out from the Derry match – and we’re Ulster champions today. We were demoralised in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year. To go from that to this, to put in that performance today…
“It’s our best victory in terms of the questions that were being asked of us and the stuff that was being said about it, like: ‘Have those boys the stomach for it?’
“They proved today they had.
“The bottom line is that this team was written off when they came out of Croke Park last year.”
Mayo rolled over Donegal last August, but Donegal’s players came back with the look of a side that had a point to prove and a score to settle.
An Ulster final win over Monaghan tasted sweet.
McGuinness said: “I think it’s our best victory because of the circumstances. We went into the All-Ireland final, we had won Ulster, then beat Cork and Kerry so it was very smooth.
“This was a situation where they were being questioned. There is only one way to sort out those questions and that is out on the pitch.
“People have been asking questions and we’ve answered those questions. If your character is questioned it’s a very important thing to any person in any walk of life. But the character was questioned and there was only one way to sort that out and that was to go back and try and win your province again.
“They showed the character that they weren’t going to come off that pitch beaten. They had fire and determination in their bellies.”
Donegal have made headlines since with first a change in McGuinness’s backroom team last year before the departure of Mark McHugh just after the National League campaign raised yet more questions about Donegal’s set-up.
They answered them in style.
For McGuinness, the Ulster Championship means the world and there was clear satisfaction on his face after masterminding Monaghan’s downfall.
The Glenties man said: “It was very important to get back to the final after losing it last year. Our players spent many years without winning anything.
“They won their first in 2011 and then 2012, but there was the pain of last year, we lost the Ulster crown and that impacted on the All-Ireland crown.
“To come back from that is the one. You have to look deep inside yourself early in the year and decide that you want to get to this stage. They did that and they faced down the challenge. They worked really hard, were very focussed and committed to playing for Donegal. They got what they deserved over the last nine months.
“From when we went back training – in the depths of winter – today was a long, long way away for players who have been around the block. They had to go back and they had to do it and believe they’re good enough and get over the line. That’s why I’m very proud of them. That makes it our best ever.”
McGuinness looked around a room in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell on Sunday morning and could feel the scent of victory. His men were in a good place.
He said: “I felt it was right at 10 o’clock this morning. We were honest with each other. We had put in the hard yards for 10 weeks and freshened them up for the last two weeks.
“The atmosphere was really good, there was a really good focus. We hoped that what was going on on the bus and in the dressing room would be repeated on the pitch. Thankfully it did.
“The one thing we did in the four years is say that the Ulster championship is the most important competition and everything else comes after that. It’s fantastic but not even on a personal level. It’s every single person in that dressing room. I didn’t even kick a ball today. They’ve won them medals, worked hard to get them.
“As a manager you want to work with people who are committed, want to work hard for the jersey and them lads are top notch.”
All three Regional winners now progress to the National Finals to be held in the Google Headquarters in Dublin...