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Cúl & The Gang
Last year, their ultra-defensive style made them one of the most reviled Gaelic football teams in history. But there is no arguing with the transformation of Donegal in 2012 as they overcame three powerhouses of the game to win the All Ireland. Goalkeeper Paul Durcan lifts the lid on the Ulstermen’s extraordinary success – and discusses the controversies that have dogged enigmatic manager Jim McGuinness...
The Hot Press Newsdesk, 01 Nov 2012
Donegal’s win over Mayo in the All-Ireland football final was the culmination of a campaign as outstanding as any team could ever hope for. They became the first team in history to win back-to-back Ulster titles having been drawn in the preliminary round on each occasion, and required further victories over Cork and Kerry – two of the best teams in the country – simply to reach the final. Their wins over those sides and, earlier in the campaign, Tyrone, meant they had defeated three counties who between them had claimed eight of the previous nine All-Irelands.
Playing a lethally effective counter-attacking system devised by the brilliant tactical mind of manager Jim McGuinness, Donegal at times looked unbeatable, with the likes of Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn and Colm McFadden – all of whom have been nominated for ‘Footballer of the Year’ – shining brilliantly. Behind the rock-solid Donegal defence stood goalkeeper Paul Durcan, the 28-year-old from Donegal town. Durcan’s excellent performances – including a vital last minute save against Tyrone – have earned him an All Star nomination.
All of that notwithstanding, Donegal have undoubtedly been the most controversial GAA team in aeons. In the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, they put 14 men behind the ball in one of the most bizarre – and, frankly, awful – matches in living memory. Dublin eventually pulled through by eight points to six, which the Irish Independent’s Eugene McGee noted read “like a scoreline from a century ago.”
Afterwards, Sunday Game panellists Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane slated Donegal, whilst Joe Brolly expressed amazement that McGuinness “had the balls to bring a game like that into Croke Park.” Later in the year, there was further controversy when the team’s All Star defender, Kevin Cassidy – who scored a superb match-winning point in extra time during an enthralling quarter final against Kildare – was asked to leave the panel.
Cassidy had contributed to journalist Declan Bogue’s compelling book This Is Our Year, which told the story of the 2011 Ulster championship through several of its protagonists. In it, Cassidy gave an insight into the intensity of Donegal’s approach, and admitted to attempting to get Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly sent off, as well as verbally targeting opponents.