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11 matches that will define Jim McGuinness' time in charge of Donegal

From the high of All-Ireland success to the low of this year’s final.

Donegal 1-10 v Antrim 0-7 – Ulster SFC first round, May 2011

Rory Kavanagh tackles Terry O'Neill Rory Kavanagh tackles Terry O'Neill. Source: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Donegal had come into the game as favourites after winning Division II of the National Football League but made hard work of beating Antrim, perhaps because they had failed to win an Ulster championship game since a one-point victory over Armagh in the 2007 quarter-final.

McGuinness had Michael Murphy, wearing 14, operate in a deeper role, much like he had in their win over Laois in the Division two final but it wasn’t until an injury time Mark McHugh goal that Donegal fans could celebrate their first provincial win in four years.

Donegal 1-11 v Derry 0-8 – Ulster SFC final, July 2011

Michael Murphy and Jim McGuinness celebrate with the Anglo Celt Michael Murphy and Jim McGuinness raise the Anglo Celt Cup. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

13 months after taking charge of Donegal, McGuinness guided them to a first Ulster title in 19 years with a comfortable win over Derry in Clones.

His focus on the game-plan, not the game, came through in the aftermath of the historic win when he said: “We weren’t talking about the Ulster final or the significance of the 19 years, we were talking about x, y and z that had to happen if we were going to win the game. That was the approach.

“Performance goals are a lot more powerful than telling somebody they haven’t achieved in 19 years.”

Dublin 0-8 v Donegal 0-6 – All-Ireland SFC, August 2011

Source: eireforce/YouTube

Dour. Dull. Defensive. They’re the kind words you can use about this game. It was hard to watch as a neutral with Donegal suffocating their opponents in a game where it took 24 minutes to register the first score from play.

Who knows what way the game, and Donegal’s season, would have gone had Colm McFadden not blazed his early second half effort over the bar but this loss shaped the Donegal we would see over the following years.

Donegal 2-18 v Down 0-13 – Ulster SFC final, July 2012

Mark Mchugh celebrates 22/7/2012 Mark McHugh celebrates Donegal's back-to-back success. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

For the first time in their history, Donegal won back-to-back Ulster titles with a resounding 11-point win over Down at Clones. Leo McLoone and Frank McGlynn were the goal-scorers for Donegal who raced away from the Mourne men in the second half.

Donegal 1-12 v Kerry 1-10 – All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, August 2012

Brendan Kealy and Aidan O'Mahony look on as Michael Murphy celebrates a goal Michael Murphy celebrates Donegal's goal. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

A late Karl Lacey point ensured Donegal would inflict only the second All-Ireland quarter-final defeat in Kerry’s history. Once again it was Donegal’s disciplined defence that won the day, holding the Kingdom scoreless for large swathes of the second-half while keeping the umpires busy themselves.

Donegal 2-11 v Mayo 0-13 – All-Ireland SFC final, September 2012

Source: ForKingAndCountry2014/YouTube

Twenty years after picking up their first Sam Maguire, Donegal won their second with a comprehensive victory over Mayo. McGuinness’ side won the game with two goals in the first ten minutes.

After taking plenty of criticism for his team’s defensive style, the Donegal boss showed the end justifies the means by taking home football’s biggest prize just two years into his tenure.

Monaghan 0-13 v Donegal 0-7 – Ulster SFC final, July 2013

Monaghan players are mobbed by ecstatic supporters after the game Monaghan players are mobbed by fans. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

McGuinness took charge of Donegal for 13 Ulster championship matches and this was the only one he lost.  In an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, Donegal allowed Monaghan to race into a five point lead, only scoring their first point in the 32nd minute.

With the Farney playing them at their own game, Donegal were not able to claw their way back and missed out on a third Anglo Celt cup in a row.

Mayo 4-17 v Donegal 1-10 – All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, August 2013

Taoisech Enda Kenny celebrates Mayo's win Enda Kenny celebrates Mayo's win. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

If the Ulster final loss stung, the humiliating defeat at the hands of Mayo in the quarter-finals must have broken Donegal hearts. As a contest, this game was over by half-time as Mayo held a 2-10 to 0-4 lead. Like the Monaghan defeat, Donegal’s defensive discipline disappeared with McGuinness and his players having no answer for Cillian O’Connor (3-4) on the day.

Donegal 0-15 v Monaghan 1-9 – Ulster SFC final, July 2014

Jim McGuinness kisses the Anglo Celt Cup McGuinness celebrates his third Ulster title. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A forgettable first half saw Donegal lead 0-6 to 0-4 at the break with a return to the swarm defence that had as many as 13 yellow and green shirts behind the ball at many stages.  A second half goal gave Monaghan some hope of defending their title but Donegal were never going to let a second Anglo Celt cup slip from their grasp at the hands of the Farney.

Donegal 3-14 v Dublin 0-17 – All-Ireland SFC semi-final, August 2014

Michael Darragh Macauley under pressure Donegal ensure Michael Darragh MacAuley has no space. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Written off by pretty much everyone outside the county in the build up to the game, Donegal produced one of the biggest shocks in championship history by beating the previously all-conquering defending champions.

The game looked in real danger of getting away from them when Donegal trailed by five points after 23 minutes but McGuinness’ players dominated the final 47 minutes to stun Dublin and book their spot in the final.

Kerry 2-9 v Donegal 0-12 – All-Ireland SFC final, September 2014

Source: steve smink/YouTube

It was far from a classic final as Kerry sacrificed the free-flowing game that had seen them beat Mayo at the second attempt in the semi-finals to claim their 37th All-Ireland crown.

Once again, Donegal conceded an early goal and, though they fought back, few would argue that Kerry were not deserving winners in what would prove to be McGuinness’ last game in charge.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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