Donegal boss Jim’s plan pays big dividends
In terms of how sweaty it was, the finish to this game was right up there with last year's injury-time of extra-time win over Kildare in the quarter-finals, yet Donegal boss Jim McGuinness was remarkably composed as he articulated the manic finish to the weekend's most intriguing game.
“We knew that Kerry were going to come back at us strongly at some stage,” he said.
“Obviously, they've won what they've won for a reason and their composure and class came through there at the end.
“Up to that point we were very happy,” said McGuinness (below).
“I thought that when we went five up and six up we were in control of the game and at that stage I didn't think it was going to come from Kerry — I thought it wasn't going to come.
“Then the goal changed everything.
“A goal is a huge score in any game and when it came then all of a sudden it was six down to three and you could feel the apprehension right away as soon as the ball hit the back of the net, in the crowd and in the stadium.
“A very important breaking ball in the middle of the park, when we had lost two or three in a row, Karl Lacey comes onto it, kicks a very good score and I think we were okay after that,” he said.
McGuinness is asked the question straight out — how did you figure out the Kingdom and how you would play against them?
“That would be telling, I suppose,” draws a few chuckles, but when it's pointed out that he could reveal all, now that the game is over, he added: “Well, there's always next year!” to more laughter.
Then he dissects Kerry, although you suspect he holds an awful lot back at the same time.
“They build from the back, 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.
“Our sweeper Mark McHugh did very well in relation to that.
“They were trying to thread balls through and we were anticipating that.
“We picked up a lot of ball through that and from our own point of view we are just happy to progress, really.
“We were in a semi-final last year and we were desperate to get back there this year again.”
McGuinness captained Tralee IT to a Sigerson title in his youth, so he is well placed to speak of his respect for the latest opponents to be bamboozled by Donegal.
“I spent two of the best years of my life in Kerry and I understand what football means to Kerry people and I understand how professional Kerry are in every aspect of trying to develop their players and supporting their teams.
“I really get the concept and I knew the concept coming into the thing.
“The players in the Kerry dressing room have given their life to the county jersey and their accolades speak for themselves.”
Those accolades only came because they could normally overwhelm opponents in the closing stages of games.
Yet Donegal, when faced with wave after wave of Kerry attacks, held their composure and nerve, pleasing their manager.
“There were questions that clearly Kerry were asking of us at that stage and to come up with that breaking ball in the middle of the park, and then commit to the attack, and we had two or three runners — we could have got more out of that move, but we were happy with the point, it pushed the game out for us.
“We'd know a lot more about our own team and players after the game and we would know a lot more about them now when the real pressure came on them.
“They don't fold and that's important,” added McGuinness, whose side will take on Kerry’s fierce Munster rivals Cork in the last four of an intriguing and pulsating race for All-Ireland title glory.