Few will forget what they witnessed at Croke Park yesterday, but this was one occasion where the sounds will reverberate every bit as much as the sights.
From the piercing war cries of the Donegal players as they emerged from their cocoon of a dressing-room through to the guttural urgings of the estimated 42,000 souls who travelled from the north-west, the effect was a surround sound that smothered the senses in much the same way as Jim McGuinness’ players did Cork.
It was the Donegal manager who orchestrated the crescendo by shaking a triumphant fist at the devoted hordes on the Hogan Stand as he left the stage. After this, the Ulsterman may finally have the entire country singing a similar tune and he accepted it was his most satisfying day yet on the sideline.
“I suppose, yes, for the players. They have worked very hard the last two years. They have made a commitment to the county, one based on the fact that they wanted to try and achieve things and it is very satisfying that the hard work they put in is reflected now that they will be playing in an All-Ireland final.”
McGuinness and his team have lit the touch paper on a frenzy he is happy to stoke between now and September 23 and the task awaiting the victors of next week’s second semi-final is an unenviable one.
Many a statistic has been chucked about to explain the effectiveness of Donegal’s modus operandi but the one revealing that Cork scored three times off 25 attacking forays in the second-half brings words like brick and wall to mind.
The frightening part of it all is that they can improve. Yet again, they slowed in sight of the tape and got caught by a late goal, their wide count zoomed into double digits and McGuinness could even go so far as to describe their first-half display as “lethargic”.
That they led at the break despite such a summation shows just how their standards have risen and few who have witnessed their transformation from the days when hard luck stories and tales of indiscipline stalked the county to the present day will doubt their ability to find another two or three per cent within them before the decider.
“When I took over the job two years ago, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who said I was off my rocker,” McGuinness pointed out. “I was off my head. Donegal is a poisoned chalice. Them players will let you down — and it has been the opposite to that.”
McGuinness would know about opposites. His serious demeanour and tightly-cropped hair is a far cry from the days when he sported a goatee, flowing black locks and a reputation as a player who was hardly averse to the lighter side of life.
These days, he delivers his words with a seriousness and solemnity that begs comparison with a reverend rather than a rocker but he insists that the stony and sincere exterior is merely a front for the delirium within.
“I can do a somersault on the way in,” he laughed.” No, I am unbelievably happy. I am very, very proud of the lads. I am very proud to come from Donegal. Twenty years is too long for us not to be in a final.
“Hopefully in four weeks time there can be an opportunity to let the hair down and not be analytical, but now is about the next four weeks.”
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