McGuinness hails Donegal heroes as they survive late scare
After a thrilling finish to a game so often mired in mediocrity, delighted Donegal manager Jim McGuinness paid tribute to the composure of his Ulster champions.
"We knew that Kerry would come back strong at some stage," said McGuinness. "They've won what they've won for a reason. Their composure and class showed in the end.
"I was very happy when we went six points ahead. We looked in control of the game and, for a moment there, I thought it wasn't going to come from Kerry.
"But their goal changed everything. It's a huge score in any game. All of a sudden, it's down to three and you can feel the apprehension in the stadium. But then we won that breaking ball and Karl Lacey finished it off for us.
"It was a clutch situation. Kerry were asking serious questions. To come up with that breaking ball in the middle of the park and then commit to the attack with two or three runners.
"We could have got more from that attack but we were happy with the point because it put the game out for us."
A delighted McGuinness added: "We said before that we'd know a lot more about our own team after this game and we do know a lot more about them now. We know that when the pressure comes on them, they don't fold. That's important.
"You're always wondering with younger players, can they do it and live with the pressure? They mightn't be able to do it the next day, but they did it today.
"Your future is your past. Everything you've done in your past creates what you'll be in your future.
"Getting over the line today, and winning the Ulster final, all these things coming together should help to build this squad."
Colm McFadden's stunning goal from a sideline kick that spooked Kerry's Aidan O'Mahony and Brendan Kealy gave Donegal a freakish lead they never conceded.
"I'm not going to claim I saw the goalkeeper off the line," said McFadden.
"I just wanted to give the ball to Michael Murphy at the far post and he probably got in the way of the 'keeper a bit."
McFadden, whose 1-6 total backboned Donegal's relentless defensive efforts, knows that a Cork side who destroyed the Ulster champions by some 14 points in 2009 are even better three years on.
"They're a serious team," he said of Conor Counihan's side. "They've moved on from when they played us last time. We've a lot of hard work to do ahead of that game and we probably need to play better than we did today."
Jack O'Connor, who refused to contemplate his or anyone else's retirement, paid tribute to Donegal and hinted that the elements had interfered with his team's display.
"In the first half I thought we snatched at a lot of chances. We rushed a lot of stuff. We needed to show more patience and we did that late on in the game after addressing it at half-time," he said.
"We'd like to have had another minute of injury-time - there was just two played. On the balance, though, they were the better team.
"Their goal from the sideline kick was a big score in the context of the game. It gave them the confidence to play the game they wanted to play.
"We needed to draw level. It would have been critical to get level and test their mettle a bit. Late on there was a free down here against us which was a critical decision."