All-Ireland champions Donegal were relegated with almost the final kick of the NFL Division One campaign when they conceded a late point to Dublin’s Paul Mannion in Ballybofey on Sunday – but boss Jim McGuinness is backing his ‘shell-shocked’ players to bounce back.
Dublin’s 1-10 to 0-13 draw on Donegal soil and wins for Kerry and Mayo, away to Tyrone and Cork respectively, sent the Sam Maguire winners down on a dramatic final day.
McGuinness admitted his players were in shock when they realized the full impact of that late equalizing point from Mannion.
But he was also adamant he won’t lose any sleep over relegation when he spoke to reporters after the match.
“It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t make a difference to us because we don’t really like the league to be honest with you,” McGuinness said.
“We’ll rebuild in Division 2, not that we’d be rebuilding, but it’ll be easier on us in terms of the opposition that we’ll be playing.
“It’ll give us a chance to roll out our annual plan a lot easier than it was this year and last year. I have no problem with that and we have no problem with being relegated.”
The draw and its consequences did hurt the Donegal players however, as McGuinness conceded when he spoke to RTE Radio.
“They are shell-shocked because they felt they had done enough to win the game and we had the game,” he said.
“There were a few things that happened, that transpired in the last 15 or 20 minutes, that resulted in them not getting the game and they are scratching their heads a wee bit.”
Replacement referee Michael Duffy, called upon to substitute for injured official Padraig Hughes, drew the wrath of the home crowd when he failed to award Donegal a late penalty.
But McGuinness refused to be drawn into the debate. “Everybody who was at the match can make up their own mind on that one. The cameras were here today, they’ll see what went on and everybody else can make their decision.”
The opening Ulster championship game with Tyrone on the same Ballybofey pitch is next up for the All-Ireland winners.
“The focus was always on Tyrone to be honest,” stressed McGuinness.
“Tyrone are going to be at full tilt and hopefully, by that stage, so will we. But in terms of our own intensity and pace that we played with, we’d be very happy.”