BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT CROKE PARK
THE jist of Jim McGuinness’s half-time pep talk appeared to have centred on two questions.
The Donegal manager addressed his players after they appeared back to the sanctuary of the dressing room 1-8 to 0-10 in front after hitting a purple patch late in the half.
McGuinness posed the questions.
‘Do you believe in yourself?’
‘Do you believe in your team-mates?’
Donegal believed alright.
Ryan McHugh had netted a goal in the 33rd minute of the first-half and when the Kilcar man swept home another Donegal dared to dream. The belief among the 30,000 Donegal supporters grew, too, and Colm McFadden’s third goal was the admission ticket back into Croke Park.
“It was a challenge and the reality for us was: Could we face it down?” McGuinness said, with his son, Mark Anthony, accompanying him for his briefing to the country’s Gaelic Games correspondents.
“When you want to beat Dublin you have to face that challenge down. If you don’t face that challenge down or you take a back step – one back step – they will absolutely annihilate you.
“The big thing was to keep doing what we spoke about, keep driving the game plan, keep driving themselves to the 70th minute and believe in themselves.”
McHugh was his Man of the Match, scoring 2-2 in a display that was classy, intelligent and inspiration all rolled into the cloth of the number 12 shirt.
“Phenomenal,” agreed McGuinness.
“He’s been excellent the whole year through. His decision-making is top, top drawer. He’s only a light lad but he can make good decisions, he has great agility.
“If you go into tackle him, and that’s part of Dublin’s gameplan to stop you coming out with the ball, too forcefully that wee shimmy is there and he’ll go by you.
“We’re delighted with that because we got beaten by 16 points last year and we needed fresh legs to come in and give the team a bit of a lift.
“Himself and Odhran MacNiallais have given the team a huge lift and so has ‘Jigger’ (Darach O’Connor).
McFadden scored 1-3 and his goal was taken with all of that razor-sharp edge he had two years ago when Donegal ran the distance. The veteran forward hasn’t hit the high notes this summer, but McGuinness kept the faith.
He said: “The reality is Colm is a top-quality player and when you give those players a bit of room and a decent supply they normally deliver for you and that is the fact of the matter. We played four Ulster teams up to today so, for me, it was a lot of huffing and puffing about nothing.
“He is kicking really well in training and that is what you base it on. If he wasn’t training really well and kicking really well in training I wouldn’t have picked them today. It’s the same for all of them.”
Donegal also had a captain’s performance from Michael Murphy, who worked forcefully around the middle third and who made the first goal with his first visit into the edge of Stephen Cluxton’s square.
McGuinness said: “As I said down in Letterkenny, if we can clone Dolly the sheep it would be nice to clone Michael Murphy and have him in full-forward as well as around the middle of the park because of his leadership, his intensity and honesty around the park.
“He is one of the best if not the best forward in the country.
“Managing that, people can have an opinion and a fixed mindset but fixed mindsets don’t win games. Thankfully for Michael we got the best out of him.
“It’s not easy when you are doing a massive job for the team but he will come and say to me ‘whatever you want’ because he is a top, top leader. We got the balance right today but we will have to look at that again for the next opposition and what the challenges are.”
The challenge that awaits now could hardly be any stiffer: Kerry in the All-Ireland final.
McGuinness said: “We talked about game intelligence and Kerry lead the way in terms of game intelligence. I played down there at college for two years.
“They have really good decision makers. Most of their players are two footed, they play a lovely brand of football and they’ll bring all of that experience, craft and intelligence to the game. It’s a dream final for Donegal.”
On Kerry’s extra-time win over Mayo at the Gaelic Grrounds the previous evening, McGuinness said: “It was inspirational by both teams. You talk about honesty and we referenced both teams today, the honesty that they showed was exceotional. It looked like an All-Ireland final win for Kerry after the game and it was a bit like that for us.
“I know Eamon Fitzmaurice will be refocusing their boys now and we will be doing the same.”
Having beaten the defending All-Ireland champions, Dublin, Donegal will be on a high as they go into their second All-Ireland final in three years.
McGuinness said: “It’s not going to do our confidence any harm. It’s the same process for every single team we play.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Division Four or the All-Ireland champions. Very quickly we have to get into that process. The last three weeks have been very intensive because we knew the challenge Dublin presented us. We worked very hard to deliver a performance and we have to restart that process now.”