Donegal manager Bonner all set for Tyrone clash
Donegal manager Declan Bonner was remarkably level-headed about the immediate future for his side after they got to grips with a stubborn Fermanagh challenge to win their Ulster Championship quarter-final 0-15 to 0-9 in Brewster Park.
This sets up an Ulster semi-final against Tyrone - conquerors of a poor Antrim side on Saturday evening - on June 8 at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan.
Asked what he took from the game, Bonner answered: "We always knew it was going to be difficult coming to Brewster Park. It is never easy but you know the way that Fermanagh are going to set up. We had a really controlled performance in the second half and some of the point taking in the last quarter was top class."
Fermanagh had restricted Donegal to five points in the opening half and brought it back to the minimum, getting the better of a shaky opening period.
"There was a breeze factor and it was difficult to score in those top goals but I felt we tagged on a number of scores," added Bonner.
"We knew a number of gaps would appear and once they did, the likes of Paddy McBrearty, Michael Murphy and Ciaran Thompson were well capable of taking their scores."
Like many GAA initiatives, it seems the directives concerning head-high tackles had a limited effect.
Last week’s encounter between Down and Armagh was shaped by the sending off of Caolan Mooney after he caught Armagh’s Aidan Nugent high. Here, referee Joe McQuillan had a huge decision to make when Paddy McGrath appeared to swing Conall Jones around by the neck in the 45th minute.
The replays made it look less reckless than it might have been but in real time, the fans’ feelings were that McGrath would walk. Instead, McQuillan flashed a yellow, rather than a red.
You might think that’s the sort of fine margin Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher could rail against, but he said instead: “Your initial reaction, you shout. But I didn’t think it was a red card. It was a player coming down and as much as I would like to have seen it at the time, I thought Joe McQuillan displayed common sense.
“It was probably a slightly over-aggressive tackle, but those are difficult ones and I understand the directive but I would have had no problem with that.”
For all that, Gallagher was far from as frustrated as he was after last year’s Ulster final. Perhaps because his coaching went to plan and if they came up short, it’s because of their lack of attacking threat.
"Like, the type that the returning Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy have. I know Paddy better than most, he’s an exceptional talent,” Gallagher added.
“I thought Lee (Cullen) did brilliantly on him, marked him really well, I thought Che did exceptionally well on Michael again. When the game opened up the two of them came into it.”
Declan Bonner was a calm presence after, noting that sometimes the wind can have a serious bearing in football, but welcoming McBrearty back into action.
“He has been out of football a long, long time. It is one thing training and playing club matches but this was the white heat of Ulster championship and that game will bring Paddy on a lot,” he said.
“I thought in that second half, he was outstanding and kicked a couple of great scores and it was great to have him back on the field.
“Forwards win games, that’s the bottom line. We have this quality within that group but also they work hard and are real leaders within the group.”
And with that, he turned to Tyrone and a semi-final in waiting, and possibly a different challenge against Tyrone’s more offensively inclined tactics.
“They changed a bit towards the latter end of the league. It will be an interesting game in terms of styles and it will be a real tactical affair.
“But I think it will be an attacking match, there is no doubt about that.”