Another 70 minutes separates Donegal from a second All-Ireland title but Paul Durcan believes that whatever happens now, they have finally shed the image of unruly party animals that stalked them for so many years.
Jim McGuinness touched on that very subject after Sunday’s defeat of Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. The manager mentioned how people said he was “off my rocker” to take over a bunch of players whose late-night exploits so often overshadowed their Sunday afternoons. “That idea was out there. I live and work in Dublin and it was always said to me about the partying in Donegal. Anyone that lives up there knows what the lads are like. We enjoy ourselves and have a good time but it was blown out of proportion. We have put that to bed.”
Another unwanted moniker — that of perennial underachievers — is all but set to join it under the covers. Then again, perhaps it already has given their back-to-back provincial titles and the years of disappointment that had preceded them. Durcan was there through most of them: the Ulster final defeats to Armagh in 2004 and ‘06, the false dawn that was the 2007 National League title and the three-year span from 2008 to 2010 when they couldn’t even win a game in their provincial championship.
At times, he felt it would never happen for them. “Yeah, there has been a lot of that — bad feelings and bad days at the office. It has been tough. I have been there nine years and the majority of them have been tough years. We lost Ulster finals too and they were disappointing days.”
Today may be another bad day at the office for Durcan but only in terms of productivity. Assimilating the thoughts of an All-Ireland appearance harbours the potential to sidetrack a man and no doubt his mind will wander back to 1992 at some point this week.
The Four Roads goalkeeper was nine when Donegal claimed their only All-Ireland title and he watched that defeat of Dublin with his dad from the Hogan Stand. Two decades on and he will emulate his hero Gary Walsh between the sticks on the big day. Donegal earned their place in that ’92 final with a semi-final defeat of his father’s native Mayo and on the back of a performance that was derided even though it delivered a four-point win that could have been 14.
Their successors were hardly that dominant two days ago but they were in no way flattered by a three-point margin that could have been far greater and Durcan admitted to being slightly taken aback by the gap on the scoreboard before Colm O’Neill’s injury-time goal. “Yeah, I was surprised in a way. We were disappointed in our performance in the first half. They got a few easy scores and we thrive on not letting them in for easy scores so we were disappointed with that. The boys got better shape in defence in the second half and we used that as a springboard to go forward. I suppose we could have scored a lot more too. We had a few easy chances we missed.”
It’s not the worst way to approach an All-Ireland final — taking the scalps of Tyrone, Kerry and Cork — and armed with the knowledge that their best has yet to come after a season of considerable highs.
“Three of the last four All-Ireland champions — it will be one of the toughest ones ever but if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be fun,” said Durcan.
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