'I believe that every game is winnable': The mindset that allowed Donegal stun the Dubs

Jim McGuinness saluted his players for the honesty and commitment they showed in yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

DONEGAL WAS DREAMING of an All-Ireland double last night after Jim McGuinness’s men stunned Dublin in Croke Park.

A goal in either half from Ryan McHugh and one from Colm McFadden fired the Ulster champions past the devasted Dubs and set up a Sam Maguire showdown against Kerry on 21 September.

It was double delight as Donegal’s young guns booked their place in the minor decider for the first time in county’s history.

McGuinness said: “It’s a dream final in many respects for Donegal and it’s particularly a dream final when the minors are there as well.”

Defending champions Dublin started yesterday’s game as 2/9 favourites but were outfoxed and outfought by a Donegal side who were rated as 7/1 outsiders by some.

That was a reflection of Dublin’s dominance in their four previous games this summer and McGuinness couldn’t find fault with the oddsmakers.

But he said: “I believe that every game is winnable if you get everything right and you’ve got the right attitude.

“Every single county in Ireland has 15 good footballers and if they’re all fully, fully focused and they’ve got the heart and determination to play for their county and there’s a good gameplan there, you’re not going to be far away.

Michael Fitzsimons and Michael Murphy Michael Murphy's advanced role caused Dublin difficulties. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We were hoping going into the game today that the honesty would be in the group, that we would deliver a gameplan and we still didn’t know if we were good enough to win the match or not because of the challenge that was presented to us.

Had we lost today by a point, I could have easily made peace with that because that’s what you want — you just want them to give it everything and deliver that performance. They did that.

An enthralling contest hinged on a 10-minute period at the end of the first half. Diarmuid Connolly could have put Dublin seven points ahead but his shot came back off the legs of goalkeeper Paul Durcan.

From that point to the end of the first half Donegal outscored the Dubs by 1-4 to 0-2, topped by McHugh’s first goal, and took a two-point lead into the break.

As he took stock in the dressing room at half-time, McGuinness knew to expect an onslaught.

“It was a challenge. The reality for us was: Could we face it down.

“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.

Ryan McHugh scores his side's first goal past goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton Ryan McHugh was in the right place at the right time to score two Donegal goals. Source: INPHO

“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.”

He added: “I asked them: ‘Do you believe in yourself and do you believe in your team-mates?’ That was the key thing.

“They kept pushing and pushing and we got over the line. It’s just a great feeling, but we need to get back at it very quickly to prepare for Kerry.”

There was just as much drama in the day’s curtain-raiser where Ethan O’Donnell’s late point into Hill 16 sealed a 1-12 to 1-11 win against the Dublin minors.

Declan Bonner’s side will also face Kerry in Headquarters on the third Sunday of September, hoping to bring the minor title back to the hills at the first time of asking.

As news of that historic win filtered through to the senior dressing room, it gave the Donegal players a massive lift before throw-in.

“It’s absolutely astonishing for Donegal. To have the minors in an All-Ireland final is just incredible. To have the double now is just something else.

“It is fantastic for Donegal football, and with a lot of people leaving the county and people under pressure for jobs, this is going to be a huge, huge shot in the arm.

The most important thing in Donegal for the next three weeks bar none will be football. That’s man, women and child. And that’s what you want. That’s what you get from success.

“I have to say as well it did give the seniors a real good shot in the arm when they were in doing their warm-up when word came through that the minors had won by a point.

“You could see them stepping up and they really appreciated it. It gave them the confidence to say, ‘Well Dublin have been beaten in Croke Park, let’s see how we fare out as well.’

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Kevin Kelly, Niall McLoughlin, Seamus Houghton, Paddy McGuinness and Benny Doherty Kevin Kelly, Niall McLoughlin, Seamus Houghton, Paddy McGuinness and Benny Doherty. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Declan has done a phenomenal job and it’s not just this year — he’s had them for four years and he has brought them through from 15 years of age.

“You have to admire the longevity there as well. He believes in them and they are in the final.”

Just as inspirational, McGuinness said, was Saturday’s thrilling semi-final between Kerry and Mayo which the team watched together from their hotel in Kildare.

“You talk about honesty and we referenced both teams today, the honesty that they showed was exceptional.

“It looked like an All-Ireland final win for Kerry after the game and it was a bit like that for us.”

The celebrations which greeted the final whistle were euphoric to say the least but McGuinness was quick to put the result in its proper context.

It rates absolutely nowhere because we have got three weeks to prepare for the All-Ireland final and if we get beat in that it will be crushing. I know that Kerry are thinking the same. That’s sport…

The final now shapes up as a tale of two counties who were written off before the first ball of the Championship was even kicked, but McGuinness said it’s no surprise to see Kerry back in another final.

“We talked about game intelligence and Kerry probably lead the way in terms of game intelligence over the last how many decades.

“I played down there myself for two years with the college. They have really good decision-makers. Most of the players are two-footed. They play a lovely brand of football.

“They are going to bring all that experience and craft to the game the next day.”

5 talking points after Donegal stunned the Dubs in Croke Park

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Niall Kelly

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