Donegal boss Rory Gallagher is full of praise for his big-game players
The quiet smile of satisfaction on the face of Donegal manager Rory Gallagher told its own story at the end of yesterday's gripping Ulster Championship showdown at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
Entering his first match as team boss, Gallagher had been at pains to talk up Tyrone's strengths rather than dwelling on their perceived weaknesses.
And as things turned out, his assessment of the anticipated plus factors of the opposition proved spot on which perhaps explains why his post-match bearing was more akin to relief than absolute delight.
"We knew it was going to be tough. I thought there would be very little in it but it was very good for us to go in ahead at half-time," said Gallagher.
"This was particularly so given the way Tyrone had come back at us after we had taken an early lead. We were edging the game in patches but I think the enthusiasm which the lads showed in training ultimately paid off."
Gallagher, conscious that Donegal face into a rocky road as Armagh will have home advantage in their next outing, nonetheless knows he can take considerable satisfaction both from his team's wholehearted display and from several outstanding individual performances.
Not surprisingly, Gallagher had warm praise for match winner Michael Murphy.
"I think everyone knows the kind of player Michael is," declared Gallagher. "He's a massive player for us and he comes out best against the big challenges."
And Gallagher lauded his seasoned veterans, making particular mention of Christy Toye and Colm McFadden in this respect.
"I thought they put in a magnificent effort. We had people like Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey as well - in fact, all the team did well. We always knew that Tyrone would make it hard for us but these boys were up to the task," added Gallagher.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte stressed that his side had made a brave effort and had troubled Donegal for much of the game but admitted he was not happy with the manner in which he felt referee Joe McQuillan refused to apply the advantage law.
"I could not understand that," said Harte. "I thought we should have benefited from it a few times but we did not do so. Then when he did apply the law late in the game we found that frees were being given against us."
Harte was certainly not indulging in sour grapes as referee McQuillan appeared to miss some frees while awarding others for trivial transgressions.
While obviously disappointed to see another potential Ulster title slip from his team's grasp, Harte does not feel that he will have difficulty lifting his team for the qualifiers.
"We will take stock of this and re-group. We would like to be still in the Ulster Championship. I thought that our performance on this occasion was as good as we have given over recent years," added Harte.
And in reference to the fact that Padraig McNulty, the Dungannon midfield ace who was superb during the league, did not start the match, Harte explained: "We held him in reserve but it was good to see new players get Ulster Championship experience. However, it was a big blow for us to lose Sean Cavanagh.
"I felt that if we had been able to avail of him on the field for the last five minutes after Donegal had suffered the loss of a player we might have been able to do something.
"Sean above all people is the man you want to have in there in a situation like that but it was not to be on this particular occasion and we have to accept that."