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‘McGuinness returns to chase Harte and set Ulster Championship on fire’

On Saturday evening, as Celtic Park was bathed in sunshine and awash in red and white, green and gold in the minutes before the throw-in, it was hard not to feel that we were about to be truly captivated by the Ulster Championship for the first time. time this year.

Luckily it wasn’t a false dawn.

Derry, seen by many as strong All-Ireland candidates, were chasing the win that would put them on course to make it three-in-a-row.

As Division One champions, Mickey Harte’s men came to Celtic Park as deserved favourites.

And while losing here doesn’t change the general consensus that the Oak Leafers can go all out this year, Jim McGuinness and Donegal have well and truly started the conversation.

“I’m very, very happy,” McGuinness told BBC Sport NI.

“Their application was great, the work rate was great, tactically they had done everything really well.

“They were in tune with what we were trying to achieve and luckily for us it worked out.”

This win, achieved by a voracious performance in Donegal that left Derry looking “second class”, as Harte put it, gives momentum not only to the Tir Chonaill men but to the Ulster Championship itself after three largely uninspiring games.

With Tyrone – around whom there is always a lot of intrigue – starting their campaign on Sunday and Armagh and Down already in the semi-finals, things are suddenly starting to look good.

Big win for Jim

After returning to Donegal last year and watching his side play Derry in the Ulster quarter-finals, McGuinness spoke with deep reverence about his old opponent Harte.

He readily admitted that in the past he had lost sleep before major championship meetings with Harte’s Tyrone, but speaking to reporters after Donegal’s win, McGuinness revealed he had slept well in the nights leading up to Saturday’s match.

His players had that too. That much became clear as they tore through Derry repeatedly to send a statement to the rest of Ulster and beyond.

McGuinness and his players will sleep well this weekend. It may of course be a different story for Derry and their goalkeeper Odhran Lynch, for whom the sight of looking over his shoulder and seeing Daire O Baoill toss the ball over his head as he scrambles back towards his goal may be in his chases dreams.

Odhran Lynch is chipped by Daire O Baoill for one of Donegal's goalsOdhran Lynch is chipped by Daire O Baoill for one of Donegal's goals

Derry goalkeeper Odhran Lynch is often used as an extra outfield player but he was chipped twice by Daire O Baoill at Celtic Park (Getty Images)

Donegal itself is no stranger to nightmares. Last year they were in turmoil. Between management changes and heavy defeats, they looked like a team in disarray.

But with a Division Two title under their belts they have steadied the ship under McGuinness, and on Saturday they looked very different from the disillusioned group who were led away from Ulster by Down last year.

Together they were a joy to watch. Ryan McHugh, who was absent last year, looked back to his exciting best, Jason McGee put in a huge performance in midfield to hold his own against Derry’s Conor Glass-Brendan Rogers axis, while Brendan McCole made sure Shane McGuigan was one of had his quietest games in a while.

O Baoill even managed to do to Lynch what he did to Fermanagh’s Ross Bogue earlier this year.

But McGuinness – back in the Ulster Championship for the first time since the 2014 final – was not about to get carried away, given what lies ahead.

He had six months to refine his master plan for Derry. He has just a week to plot the downfall of Tyrone of Cavan.

“I hope it helps a lot, I hope it adds a lot to the belief, but the problem is we have an eight-day turnaround,” McGuinness told a large group of reporters as the temperature plummeted outside the Celtic Park dressing rooms . .

‘We have to get ready to go again and there is no time to sit on anything. We need to get started on it right now.

“It feels good to catch my breath tonight and head out tomorrow to watch the game. Knowing you’re done is great, but once you know who’s coming out of that game, it’s going to be full for another week .” .

“It’s very difficult to do your job in a week. It’s almost impossible. It’s a bandage over a dam situation.”

McGuinness, as he has done so many times in the past, led the tactical battle. His players used Shaun Patton’s kick-outs to build their attacks to great effect before the goalkeeper had to leave with an injury in the second half.

The Donegal boss is regarded as one of Gaelic football’s master tacticians, but he admits his side may need more energy and momentum than tactical innovation ahead of next week’s semi-final.

“We have to, I think, try to harness the energy from the performance rather than the tactical build-up for the next one,” noted McGuinness, who improved his score against Harte in the Championship to 4-0.

Derry did not look away from Ulster – Harte

Derry must now regroup after a first provincial defeat in three years.

In the grand scheme of things, this defeat could prove a turning point in the pursuit of the ultimate prize, but Harte was quick to dismiss rumors that Derry had taken their attention off the ball in Ulster.

“I don’t think so, they obviously had the opportunity to go three in a row and that was something special, so I don’t think they took this championship lightly,” he said of his players.

“But Donegal had their sights set on this game for a long time. They put in a huge amount of work to make it a really good day and they kept it going.

“You’ve got to hand it to them. They did what they wanted to do very well and a lot of what we did all year, we didn’t do at the high level that we did.”

Fans watch the matchFans watch the match

14,714 fans watched Saturday’s match in glorious sunshine at Celtic Park (Inpho)

Brennan celebrates his goalBrennan celebrates his goal

Jamie Brennan rubbed salt in Derry’s wounds by scoring Donegal’s fourth goal (Getty Images)

Conor McCluskey pictured after the matchConor McCluskey pictured after the match

Saturday was Derry’s first defeat in Ulster since a one-point loss to Donegal in Ballybofey in 2021 (Inpho)

Jason McGee celebrates with a fanJason McGee celebrates with a fan

Jason McGee produced a mammoth performance in Donegal’s midfield (Getty Images)

Daire O BaoillDaire O Baoill

Daire O Baoill made Odhran Lynch pay with two perfectly executed chips (Getty Images)