It was Jim McGuinness’s last act as Donegal manager.
THE 2014 ALL-Ireland final between Kerry and Donegal was aired on TG4 earlier today
1. Fitzmaurice wins sideline dual
Heading into this game, he wasn’t viewed as an overly tactical manager but Eamonn Fitzmaurice certainly showed his nous by outdueling Jim McGuinness on the sideline.
Having seen how devastating Donegal’s counter-attacking game was against Dublin in the semi-final, Kerry mirrored their system in the decider to avoid being caught on the break.
Anticipating that in-form forward James O’Donoghue would be smothered by the McGee brothers in defence, Fitzmaurice used the Legion player further outfield to good effect.
Donegal were expecting Kerry to go long into Kieran Donaghy early on, but it was Paul Geaney who they isolated on the edge of the square on Donegal’s smallest defender Paddy McGrath.
Donegal had conceded just two goals on their five-game march to the final, yet Geaney had the ball in the net inside the opening minute here after Stephen O’Brien’s high ball into the area.
Fitzmaurice also used Aidan O’Mahony as an effective man marker on Michael Murphy, greatly restricting the Glenswilly man’s influence on the proceedings.
2. McGuinness’s last act
It turned out to be McGuinness’s final day on the sideline with his native county. Their semi-final victory over Jim Gavin’s side was a tactical masterclass from McGuinness. Winning a second All-Ireland in three years would have been some way to bow out for the Glenties man.
By that stage, he had already taken up a role with Scottish soccer giants Celtic and was travelling back and forth to Glasgow during the campaign. He’d also fallen out with Rory Gallagher, who returned to the set-up to replace McGuinness the following year.
Donegal are back-to-back Ulster champions though they haven’t come close to the All-Ireland since McGuinness’s departure. Quarter-final defeats followed against Mayo (2015), Dublin (2016), before a heavy round 4 qualifier loss to Donegal in 2017.
Over the past two seasons, they’ve failed to progress from the Super 8s, finishing third in the group on both occasions.
The performance of Odhran MacNiallais was striking too. No Donegal manager has been able to coax the best out of him since. The Gaoth Dobhair ace has opted out of the county set-up over the last couple of years but this game is a reminder of his undoubted quality.
3. Donaghy contribution
After he failed to appear off the bench in the quarter-final against Galway, Donaghy later admitted he was “in a bad place.”
“My confidence was low I was kind of half doubting myself,” he said in October 2014. “Could I still do it? Could I go on and help the team? The career was probably on the line.”
His renaissance was one of the storylines of that summer. 31-years-old at that stage, many were writing his obituary that summer. Hip, groin and shoulder injuries threatened to derail his season, but when his chance came in the semi-final against Mayo he grasped it with both hands.
Donaghy established a good understanding with O’Donoghue that proved pivotal in helping Kerry escape from Limerick with an epic semi-final replay win over Mayo after extra-time.
His goal in the final arrived after intercepting one of Paul Durcan’s kick-outs. Standing in between two Donegal defenders, Donaghy later explained that he guessed which side Durcan would go like a goalkeeper would in a penalty shoot-out.
When Colm Cooper went down with a devastating knee injury that February, Kerry’s chances of All-Ireland glory looked remote. By September they were back on top with Donaghy a central figure once again.
And then he called out Joe Brolly in a post-match interview that went down in folklore.
4. Premature concerns over Kerry’s production line
Speaking of Donaghy’s post-game comments, they were in response to an article Brolly wrote the previous March with the headline, ‘Production line grinds to a halt at the Kerry football factory.’
Brolly referenced Kerry’s lack of success at U21 and minor ranks as the reason for their impending doom at senior level.
It’s funny to think now about the narrative that Kerry were no longer producing top quality footballers. Between 2014 and 2018, Kerry would go unbeaten at minor ranks and land five All-Ireland crowns in-a-row. Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne and St Brendan’s, Killarney also enjoyed tremendous success at All-Ireland schools level during that timeframe.
Future AFL player Mark O’Connor was the pick of the 2014 minor crop while a youngster by the name of David Clifford was learning his trade with the Kerry U16s.
A host of other current seniors were part of Kerry’s development squads at that stage, many of whom now form the backbone of Peter Keane’s senior side.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
5. Last final not to finish with Dublin lifting Sam
2014 was the last time Dublin haven’t appeared on All-Ireland final day. They’ve put the Sam Maguire under lock and key since beating in the 2015 decider.
Jim Gavin’s side were a freewheeling attacking outfield in 2014 but the semi-final loss to Donegal persuaded the manager to shift towards a more pragmatic style.
He brought former Ireland coach Mark Ingle into the set-up and introduced basketball principles which helped them navigate around defensive systems that posed them problems like Donegal.
Dublin have utterly dominated the landscape in the years since, while Kerry are beginning to reap dividends from the talented youngsters emerging on the scene.
It was the beginning of the end for Donegal, with McGuinness stepping away and many long-serving players following him over the next 24 months. It was a seminal season in many ways.
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