Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: ‘Jimmy’s winning matches – Tony’s drinking pints’

AFTER Donegal walloped Tyrone on Saturday night in Ballybofey, I got my traditional after match Whatsapp from the great Donegal forward Tony Boyle.

After every Donegal game, he sends me a picture of a pint of Guinness settling in front of him, in bars from Clones to Derry and Dungloe.

The message underneath is always the same: ‘Jimmy’s winning matches. Tony’s drinking pints.’ It’s a good job Jimmy is winning those matches. The critter never gets out of the house otherwise.

Tony told me that he was at a girls underage blitz at Convoy a few weeks ago, where the Donegal team trains. As the blitz was finishing up, Jimmy arrived for senior training. When the girls saw him, Tony said it “was like Elvis arriving on stage for a concert in the 60s.”

What is obvious in the Donegal players is their sense of mission. Last year, Down beat more or less the same Donegal team by eight points in the Ulster Championship. In the qualifiers a month later, Tyrone beat them by eight points too. Four weeks ago in the Ulster semi-final, Donegal beat them by two points after forcing extra time with a last gasp point.

On Saturday, Donegal looked bigger, faster, stronger, better and overwhelmed Tyrone, beating them easily. The difference under Jimmy is their sense of mission. The belief instilled in them by their manager that they are playing for a cause bigger than themselves. A sense of purpose that is bigger than any individual. When this happens, it takes the pressure off the players. They become instruments in a greater cause, whether they are substitutes or so called star players. In Donegal, they are all worker bees for the Donegal Queen bee. The key quality is loyalty. In Donegal, they are all Donegal men.

After they demolished us in the first round, the following week Tyrone’s Gavin Devlin – Mickey Harte’s assistant coach – was seen on the gantry above Celtic Park watching Donegal v Tyrone. He was watching it with Chrissy McKaigue. After Donegal won the Ulster final, Jimmy was asked why he had taken the role again. He explained that he had been tortured by the players and doorstepped in particular by Paddy McBrearty. He said he eventually cracked because of Paddy. For the Ulster final, his captain was in the substitutes. You can take it Jimmy will not be bringing him to other games to watch them with him.

As Derry fall apart – indiscipline, stamping, sendings off, an injury plague caused by going too hard too soon in an effort to win the league, Donegal – with all their loyalty and togetherness and Donegalness, are on a crusade to beat Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final and then win Sam Maguire for the people of Donegal.

My most recent phone call with Tony Boyle ended as follows:

Me: Jimmy will be planning for Dublin now.

Tony: Can we beat them

Me: I don’t think so

Tony: You’re probably right…but with Jimmy you never know.

That’s the thing. With Jimmy, you just never know.

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