Declan Bonner delighted as his youngsters step up in McKenna victory
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Final: Donegal 1-16 Tyrone 1-12
THE tunnel area afterwards was more packed than either defence had been for most of this entertaining final – and largely echoing to Donegal accents.
Winning manager Declan Bonner's greatest achievement was surely hiding the delight he felt at so much going right: victory coming from an attacking approach with a blend of new faces and experienced campaigners getting some much-needed game-time.
Back in his second spell in charge of his county's seniors, Bonner was particularly pleased at how some of the youngsters had performed, even when asked about getting some of the older players back, such as Frank McGlynn, goalscorer Martin McElhinney, Michael Murphy, and even a cameo from Neil McGee
“Absolutely, great to see that, that's a real positive for us to see those guys getting back on the park, the more game-time they get the stronger they're going to get.
“But also, there's a lot of good young lads coming through, they've really moved on and the McKenna Cup has been brilliant for them. Some of them have definitely nailed down places within the squad and are pushing close now for the first 15.”
Especially impressive among the newer lads were Conor Morrison, Stephen McMenamin, Daire O'Baoill, and Niall O'Donnell, although Bonner wasn't surprised having been minor and U21 boss:
“I know those guys well, I've had them for four or five years, I know what they're capable of. We've nurtured them and they came in and did a really good job in a really competitive match, put in a really big shift.
“We had a lot of new players coming in and Mickey [Harte] was trying out a few players too, but still it was a high tempo, good intensity game, with no quarter asked or given. You'd expect nothing else from a Donegal-Tyrone match, whether it's McKenna Cup, a challenge, or whatever, you expect a full-blooded affair.”
Unsurprisingly, Bonner was keen to downplay the significance of this victory, although he did express the hope that it could inspire Donegal to get some Division One points on the board:
“Both teams went at it, and that's the way you like to see Gaelic football played . It doesn't always happen like that. We know it's going to be a different story in a couple of weeks' time when there are a couple of League points at stake, but we'll take today, move on, and get ready for Kildare.
“We'll build on it, but we're not going to get carried away, we're back to work [on Sunday] we'll train and get ready for a vitally important home match against Kildare.
“We did say at the start of the campaign that it wasn't going to be the end of the world if we did go down – but we still want to be there. We still want to be competitive in Division One, it's a competitive place to be, and hopefully this win in the McKenna Cup will give the lads a lift and we'll drive on.”
His Tyrone counterpart Mickey Harte showed small signs of his annoyance at losing, arguing that his side should have taken more of the goal chances they created, although he did give Donegal credit for keeping them out in the second half:
“It was a close encounter and there were times when we could have taken a hold of the game. In the first half we created what I would say are more than half goal chances and we didn't get anything out of it. We needed to be getting those scores.
“And then obviously when Donegal pushed ahead in the second half, we were getting level with them on points and then they just picked off the scores again.
“When they had the lead like that, there is nobody better at holding out on a lead like that, and Donegal did it very well.
“We needed a goal and you weren't going to get a goal in that second half… I think it was a very good, competitive match. It's a good spectacle for the final of the McKenna Cup and Donegal had their designs on it, the same as ourselves and now they have it.”
Tyrone's goal was the only score that put them ahead on the night, and Harte acknowledged that was a factor in their defeat:
“We were chasing the game for some time. I think the big thing was when we got back level in the second half, we needed the next big score, we needed to get ahead, and they were very capable of picking off scores.
“Some of their players excelled on the night. I think Odhran MacNiallais had a huge influence on the game and then when you have Michael Murphy to come off the bench and kick a few scores as well it's very handy.”