It was the Tyrone manager Mickey Harte who made the most pertinent observation as the rain came down on Ballybofey, but Donegal’s bid to retain their Ulster and All-Ireland football titles remained on track with a big win.
The 2-10 to 0-10 scoreline tells only half the story of a match that drew a packed crowd to the Donegal venue and featured goals from Colm McFadden and Ross Wherity, a red card for Joe McMahon and a man of the match performance from Paddy McBrearty.
Tyrone ‘keeper Niall Morgan, normally so reliable from frees at the other end of the field, had a nightmare from placed balls, and Donegal’s dogged defense held the visitors scoreless for 33 of the 35 second-half minutes.
Little wonder then that Tyrone boss Harte is convinced Donegal are ever better in 2013 than they were in 2012 when the whole “Jimmy’s winning matches” legend was born.
“I think the evidence is there that Donegal are improving all the time. They have improved the last couple of years we have met them, and that’s the best I have seen them there today,” Harte said.
“They have tremendous hunger and they are really, really ready for this championship and if they keep repeating that kind of performance in terms of energy and commitment they will be very difficult to beat. Definitely they are on an upward curve still.”
In many ways, Donegal are the new Tyrone. Kingpins of Ulster football, they are on target again to be the dominant force across the land despite their recent relegation from Division One of the National Football League.
Substitute Mark McHugh, introduced along with Karl Lacey as they continue their recovery from injury, admitted afterwards that recent criticism following the poor league run was a factor in Donegal’s performance on Sunday.
McHugh, son of the legendary Martin, said, “We got a bit of bad press during the league, that we got relegated. We had a tough winter, boys went on holidays and that. We were quietly preparing for this game all winter.
“Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher had a plan and thankfully that plan worked out. We beat
Tyrone by six in the end. I don’t know if it signals intent to the rest of the country but we always look at the next match and we will find out next week whether it’s Derry or Down we will be preparing for next.”
Manager McGuinness also spoke of the criticism of his team following their relegation and his commitment to the belief that the championship is all that matters for his side.
“We had the exact same approach as we had last year. The only difference this year was that we were relegated. It was the media who made the story out of that,” he said.
There is still however, he warned, much to play for and much work to be done before Donegal play Derry or Down.
The All-Ireland winning boss added, “The bottom line is we have won in the first round of the championship. I have said all along that our preparation was for this day and now our preparation is for the next day.”
Sligo in Shock Over London Defeat
TRIBAL warfare has broken out in Sligo after the county’s shock defeat to London in the Connacht SFC quarterfinal on Sunday, the biggest upset in the championship to date this year. Manager Kevin Walsh, a Galway man, has come in for scathing criticism, with most of it coming from veteran midfielder Eamonn O’Hara – weeks after Walsh axed the 37-year-old from his squad.
O’Hara has since announced his retirement and is now a pundit on RTE’s Sunday Game program. After watching the highlights of London’s one point win in Ruislip, 1-12 to 0-14, O’Hara used his RTE platform to call on Walsh to step down immediately.
“Kevin Walsh made big calls this year and last year, but now every one of them has come back to backfire against him, and for me I think he lost the players throughout the league,” O’Hara said.
“Kevin Walsh has a lot to answer for. To be honest with you, I think he will resign and I think he should do the county board a favor. These players deserve an awful lot more to be honest with you.
“They work very hard and they have trained extremely hard -- I know that first hand -- but they deserve better training sessions, they deserve better quality in terms of their tactical awareness and stuff like that, and that hasn’t come.
“We have a lot of infighting and there is a lot of resignations at county board level. Kevin Walsh’s results over the last two years have gone unnoticed because of this infighting.”
Walsh has yet to respond to O’Hara’s verbal attack, but the county board is standing by him according to secretary Gerry O’Connor.
Responding to O’Hara’s outburst, O’Connor said, “It is important to remember that Kevin Walsh brought us up two divisions in the league in his first two years as well as reaching two Connacht finals. Eamonn is a commentator and he is paid for his comments, but that is just his opinion.”
Speaking after the game, Walsh admitted to his frustration with the result but denied that either he or his players had taken the trip to London lightly.
“The luck of the gods wasn’t with us. We hit the woodwork twice from open goal chances and didn’t even get a point out of either of them. That came back to haunt us,” he said.
London had waited 36 years for a championship win, and manager Paul Goggins was ecstatic afterwards as he promised there is more to come from his side.
“It was worth the wait. It’s unbelievable really. The players did everything that was asked of them. We’ve had no games in the build-up, but we had some brilliant games between ourselves,” he said.
“But winning today isn’t the end of our ambition. We’ll get ready during the week for the trip to Carrick-on-Shannon to face Leitrim. We’re not in any way finished yet.”
Kerry Easily Tops Tipp
KERRY hammered Tipperary by 2-19 to 0-8 on their Munster SFC bow in Killarney on Sunday, prompting Tipp boss Peter Creedon to call for the introduction of a new All-Ireland B Championship but not at the expense of the provincial competitions.
“Mayo did a nice number on Galway last week and sure Dublin might do similar to certain teams. I still think, let us play our Munster championship, but there should be a top 16 going into a senior championship and a senior B, whatever,” Creedon said.
“Club football is like senior, intermediate, junior so why should we all be playing for the same competition? But my aim is to try and build a team over the next two or three years that can come down here and rattle Kerry.”
Cody Returns for Cats Training
KILKENNY received a major boost ahead of their Leinster SHC bow against Offaly this weekend when manager Brian Cody made a surprise and unannounced return to training on Sunday.
Cody, who recently underwent heart surgery, caught the Kilkenny players by surprise when he returned to work and back to business as usual.
Star player Michael Fennelly revealed, “He just slipped back in and that was it. It was just get back on with it as usual, get on with business. In fairness, he was only out for a few months so he just slipped back in.
“I didn’t know anything about it, that he was coming back. I was actually in doing rehab so I barely saw him myself. But he looked fine. I saw him before training and that was it.”
Limerick Proves No Opposition
LIMERICK failed to meet their own expectations, never mind anyone else’s, as they slumped to an 18 point defeat, 3-17 to 0-8, to Cork at the Gaelic Grounds in Saturday’s Munster SFC quarterfinal.
Even Cork star Michael Shields was surprised by the lack of opposition as his team booked a semi-final date with Mick O’Dwyer’s Clare.
Full-back Shields admitted, “We’d always expect a tough game coming up here. I suppose they didn’t kick on really and once we got the few goals there before halftime, the game was dead and buried.”
Louth Gets Tough
LOUTH served notice of their intentions under new manager Aidan O’Rourke as they destroyed Laois by 1-16 to 1-6 in the Leinster SFC on Sunday.
O’Rourke said, “They played really well and I’m delighted for them. Probably the whole way through the league that performance was in us. We had only been playing for 30 or 40 minutes at a time and we knew if we could put 55 minutes or 60 together of football together someday we would be very difficult to deal with and that was the case today.”