One of the mantras of the Donegal dressing room this year is the honesty of effort and as that continued in their preparation for the All-Ireland semi-final there was no need for tears in the wake of the 0-8 to 0-6 loss.
Jim McGuinness was upbeat as he assessed the contest as the dust began to settle and although obviously disappointed to miss on only a second All-Ireland appearance ever preferred to concentrate his mind on the positives.
Donegal led by two points at the break and even after a reasonable opening to the second period when Colm McFadden scored a couple of points, gradually unravelled. The Ulster champions were cocooned and failed to get out of their shells. And so, 1992 remains to only occasion from seven semi-final attempts that saw Donegal reach the All-Ireland final.
When assessing the game on Sunday, McGuinness was philosophical and, as always, took the positive slant. And when the tills were counted at the end of the year’s takings, an Ulster championship remains a very steady start to the manager’s tenure.
“They put in a big push and put in everything all year from the McKenna Cup to the league to the championship,” McGuinness said in the press room in the carcass of Croke Park. “They’ve worked very hard on the training field and they tried to bring that to the competitive field as well so we’d be happy with that. I t was tough going out there.
“Dublin are probably a bit further down the line and with Karl Lacey going off had a bit of an impact. He seemed to be punching good holes. He’s a top class player and it was a disappointment to lose him. We focussed on ourselves at half-time and we had a few free-kicks that might’ve went over on another day.
“There was a lack of composure there and we felt that instead of four maybe we could’ve had maybe seven or eight at half-time. We were in control of the game when it started to open out at half-time. The game was becoming stretched but the game turned, possibly with Karl going off.
“You have to give huge credit to Dublin. They didn’t press the panic button and did enough to get over the line. They weathered the storm and came out the other side. But at 0-6 to 0-3 up we were in control and it started to stretch around the middle.
While Donegal were criticised for their style of play, McGuinness was insistent that on the larger scale of things his team has taken many a positive step in his fledgling season.
“This time last year we were trying to get the team winning games and we don’t make any apologies for this,” McGuinness said. “Our game plan was based on trying to beat Dublin. I would prefer to be competitive and to be winning championships and winning medals than to be going down in a blaze of glory like Donegal have done for the last 19 years.”
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy was content to win ugly. For the first time in 16 years they will play in an All-Ireland final and over the coming weeks there will be plenty of retro features looking back at some of the memorable finals the sides played in the late seventies and early eighties. Gilroy, when looking back at the semi-final, was complementary towards Donegal.
“We had to stick to our task in a game that was made very difficult for us by Donegal,” he said. “We found it very hard in the first half especially, but I thought my players then showed great composure and patience in seeing the game out,” said Gilroy.
“Obviously the dismissal of Diarmuid Connolly was a blow but gaps were starting to appear in the Donegal defence just before that and we were subsequently able to take good advantage of them.”