By Frank Craig
Mickey Harte says Donegal’s lacklustreness against Derry means they’ll be intent on finding the right response against Tyrone in Sunday’s Ulster SFC semi-final.
Derry almost upset the odds in spectacular fashion in Ballybofey last time out and the former Red Hand boss believes a relieved Donegal will double down on preparations this week as a result.
Harte – who delivered three All-Irelands in his time in change of his native county – said Derry will no doubt have some serious regrets in the aftermath of Sunday’s late slip against Declan Bonner’s side.
At the same time, he credited Donegal for the manner in which they summoned enough energy and craft to get themselves out of jail.
He said: “It was a wonderful game. Derry came out of the blocks in really purposeful fashion. They were up for this game. Sometimes, teams can open with energy but without real purpose or direction. But Derry had a system, they knew what they were doing and they did it really efficiently.
“They’ll no doubt be kicking themselves they weren’t further ahead when they did have the upper hand in the game. But when they did go 12-8 up, it was a really strong position to be in. But Donegal have been around the block along time and they fought their way back into it.
“They don’t like losing games here in Ballybofey. And it was that sheer determination and doggedness, they weren’t going to go down without a real fight and they gave that fight.
“Derry will be devastated because they had the better goal chances. And this isn’t being wise after the event but Derry were three up and Emmet Bradley went through but chose a point. I think in case like that I think you go for the juggler. He didn’t. And listen, at the time it didn’t seem like it would come back to bite Derry but ultimately it did.”
Stung, and with that criticism and analysis of their poor showing going to stretch right up until Sunday, Harte feels Donegal are in the perfect place this week as their focus retrains on their biggest rivals.
“It wasn’t robbery by any means. Donegal had to dig deep there. And they deserve real credit for that. It would have been easy to have folded. The Championship shock that hasn’t come yet, it was on the cards today. A team with lessor resolve than Donegal were out of the Championship. Derry showed their full hand today. Donegal have played, by their own standards, poorly. So what a way to go into an Ulster semi-final.
“They’ve won a tight game, a real battle when they didn’t perform. So this is a much more dangerous challenge now for Tyrone as a result of it being Donegal and a Donegal with so much more left in the tank. This battle goes back many years so I think we’re in for a wonderful semi-final. I think both semi-finals have the potential to be crackers.”
For Declan Bonner and his management team, there are issues to be addressed. But Harte explains that introspection and reflection always begins with he players. And the ones that didn’t perform against Derry will have thought long and hard about that before things were eventually trashed out on Tuesday night back on the training field.
“Without a doubt. So many Donegal players won’t be happy with their overall performances. They know this is the ideal chance now to knuckle down and do something about it. They’ve seven days. People were doubting them – there were people saying, ‘this man or that man aren’t up to it at this level’. And some of those same men will know they just didn’t play to their potential. So when you have a number of lads in that same boat, it’s a powerful thing. And there will be real bite to efforts this week.
“Patrick McBrearty kicked a wonderful score there at the end but he was shackled out of this game today. But he had to live with a serious amount of attention. He just didn’t have to live with one or even two men, Gallagher made sure there was as many men as possible near him which really stiffled his ability tio get a shot away.
“But this is the thing about class players that even if the one chance comes in the 74th minute, he thinks, ‘I’m still taking this on’. He backed himself and that’s why Paddy McBrearty has been around for so long at the very top level.”