GAA: Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final
By Harry Walsh
BY the time the post-game huddle dispersed in the middle of St Tiernach’s Park at around half eight on Saturday evening the Donegal players had already switched their attention to their next game in Clones in three weeks time – the Ulster final.
A fifth Ulster final in as many years beckons, and a third in a row against Monaghan, and with the Derry semi-final win in the rear view mirror the common consensus among the players was that improvement is needed ahead of July 19.
Donegal midfielder Martin McElhinney said they were delighted to get over the line and reach yet another Ulster final but he acknowledged that they have played better.
“That performance out there is no where near good enough to beat Monaghan. They’re going well and have some of the top players in Ireland like Conor McManus. We’ll have to get our heads down now on Tuesday night and get prepared as best we can for Monaghan,” he said.
The St Michael’s club-man dismissed suggestions that maybe they might have under-estimated the challenge posed by Derry.
“Absolutely not. They’re a Division One team who reached last year’s league final. We were lucky enough to beat them last year in Celtic Park and we certainly didn’t under-estimate them. Sometimes, after a good performance (in Armagh) it’s hard to back it up with another good performance. We’re disappointed with the way we played but also happy to still be in the Championship. We showed great character and kept going when Derry really put it up to us,” he said.
“Going into this game we knew that it was going to be a dog-fight and that’s exactly what it was – a tough Ulster Championship game,” he added.
In such close games, goals are always going to carry additional currency and that was the case on Saturday night.
“It was a massive score and in fairness to Marty (O’Reilly) he did the same thing (as against Armagh) – he rounded the ‘keeper and took it well. That goal gave us a bit of a cushion but, in fairness, they kept plugging away and nearly got us in the end” he said.
McElhinney was one of seven Donegal players on the scoreboard against Derry but it’s an area where he feels that significant improvements can be made ahead of the Ulster final.
“Any day you go out and kick so many wides you can’t be happy. Some days they go over for you and some days the don’t but we won’t be happy with the wide count today and we’ll have to work on that ahead of the Ulster final,” he said.
When asked about the significance of reaching a fifth successive Ulster final, McElhinney said that it was a great achievement.
“Had we talked abut five in a row when we first started out on this journey people would have laughed as us but it’s great to be back there again. We beat Monaghan is last year’s final and they probably feel that they owe us one so we’ll prepare as best we can now over the next few weeks,” he said.
With success comes experience and the 25-year-old believes that Donegal now have that particular commodity in spades.
“We have leaders all over the pitch. There’s big Neil and Frank McGlynn at the end carrying the ball and Murphy and that. When you have boys like that you always have a chance and when it mattered most they really stood up,” he said.