Declan Bogue: Donegal prepare for bright future
Yes, there are teams working towards something, and working hard at it. The difference is the intelligence of the work being put in by Donegal players and management. That's why they are in an All-Ireland semi-final two years on from that embarrassment in Crossmaglen.
Can they beat Cork? Already, the doubters have surfaced. The feeling is that in Cork, Donegal will finally meet their Waterloo because the Rebels are packed with athleticism and size.
But Cork play the most traditional football of the quarter-finalists. The only team to have beaten Jim McGuinness' Donegal in Championship football so far has been Dublin, who mirrored their formation and attitude. If the only way to beat them is to join them, then Cork will be joining the defensive party too late.
While Donegal were immensely impressive against Kerry, their manager was exceptional when he came to the interview room to face the press afterwards. On being asked what he targeted about Kerry, he smiled and said: “That would be telling.”
He was pushed further and let a few crumbs fall off the table, but you just know that he was keeping the good spuds for himself: “[They]...play traditional football in many respects, big strong midfielders to go fetch in the middle of the park, they bring the right wing-forward into it for the breaking ball, they commit to it heavily. They don't force the ball inside, they look for a lot of dinked ball, a lot of ball along the ground to try and play percentages and we had to try and counteract that.”
That information that would have been burned into the brains of Neil and Eamon McGee, and sweepers Frank McGlynn and Mark McHugh. Whenever Kerry lobbed high ball towards Kieran Donaghy, Eamon McGee did enough to break it to the waiting arms of McHugh. When it dropped close to goal, Paul Durcan stood strong and intervened twice.
When they looked to find Colm Cooper, they found McHugh standing in front of him, and Neil McGee on the tips of his toes ready to pounce.
And that was only a fraction of what McGuinness was willing to tell us.
Kerry discovered something that teams have been painfully learning. Donegal break your will, then your spirit. There is no team better than Kerry at racking up scoring bursts and they managed this late on, but consider this for a second.
In the preliminary round, Cavan put two points together in the fifth and sixth minutes. From there to half time, they got one more point while Donegal scored 1-6. The goal they conceded was a penalty. Against Derry, they never conceded two consecutive scores.
In the semi-final when they faced a Tyrone side ravenous to assert their former superiority, they conceded two unanswered scores in the opening minutes, and again in injury time, by which time the result was beyond doubt. Paul Durcan claimed another clean sheet.
Down managed a point from play followed by two frees in the first half, Donegal rubbed that out a minute later with a Leo McLoone goal. From that point, Donegal outscored them 1-14 to 0-9. Again, Durcan produced an incredible save to preserve his record.
Only Kerry [twice] and Down [once] have managed to string three scores against them.
They got the lead against Cavan in the 20th minute and never lost it. It took them nine minutes against Derry. They had more trouble with Tyrone, only wrestling their way into control by the 48th minute, but then they hit five unanswered points to pull clear.
It took 39 minutes to get their noses in front in the Ulster final. Seven in the Kerry match. Once they get a lead, they don't lose it.
Meanwhile, Cork reeled off 10 in a row against Kildare. Interesting. Very interesting.
Towards the end of the post-match conference, McGuinness left us with another nugget: “Your future is your past really, everything you have done in your past creates your future.”
Over the last two years, Donegal's philosophy and landscape has been utterly reversed. Their future is nothing like their past, so the natural assumption is everyone involved in the Donegal project is intent on putting clear distance between their sporting lives now, and what it was like on days like that trip to Crossmaglen.