Donegal manager Jim McGuinness is in no doubt about it — Saturday’s Ulster Championship semi-final victory over Tyrone proved a landmark in terms of his team’s growing maturity.
McGuinness, now facing the inviting prospect of plotting back-to-back provincial title successes for his native county for the first time in history, clearly feels that several of his players came of age in helping to shunt Mickey Harte’s team into round two of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
“I have to say that I am very, very happy with the display of my younger players on this occasion. While some of our senior players like Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher have played a hundred championship matches for
Donegal and would have faced different scenarios down through the years, for the younger lads to have come through in the manner they did is just great,” beamed a delighted McGuinness.
But while the man who has single-handedly transformed Donegal’s fortunes now switches his focus to the Ulster decider against Down on July 22, he acknowledged that Tyrone offered “the biggest possible tactical test” in a match that built from a tedious start to a thrilling climax.
“Tyrone were ahead at half-time and we said to the boys that they had to play with more width, more depth and that we had to keep looking for openings.
“We told them they had to ask questions of Tyrone and we urged them to try and switch the play so that we could maybe open them up by getting players into dangerous areas of the park,” revealed McGuinness (pictured).
The fact that his side had translated a two-point deficit in the 38th minute into a four-point lead by the 62nd minute hints at the outcome of his passionate interval rhetoric.
“I thought the side showed great composure and character in the second-half. Tyrone had done their tactical homework well, they had obviously done serious work on the training ground too.
“This was the biggest test in terms of strategy we have faced but we knew it was going to be like this because Mickey Harte has always been able to come up with something in the past when his team faced a big challenge,” added McGuinness.
And he confirmed that Donegal had been plunged into a mini-crisis even before the game started.
“When Paddy McGrath and Michael Murphy felt their hamstrings give a twinge, I actually thought that we were on the point of meltdown because we had to replace Leo McLoone with Rory Kavanagh who is only coming back from injury. Paddy and Michael thankfully played out the game,” explained McGuinness.
“It was a difficult call. The last day against Derry with playing three up front we knew we were going to get at them but because of our selection situation that opportunity was not afforded to us against Tyrone.
“You are always trying to get things right to get you over the line on any given day. We managed that this time.”