Donegal manager Declan Bonner

Michael Murphy stood in the St Tiernach’s Park stand with a sea of yellow and green covering the pitch before him.

With one hand clutching the Anglo-Celt Cup, his acceptance speech began with a triumphant roar: “We are back again!”

But his final words had the greatest resonance; thanking fans for keeping faith in the team during the four years since their last Ulster title.

It must have seemed an absurd comment to the watching Fermanagh players.

They, of course, are still without a provincial success.

Perhaps Murphy was directing his final thoughts towards himself and his team-mates rather than to the crowd.

This Donegal team have, after all, shown tremendous self-belief since Rory Gallagher’s resignation as their manager just 11 months ago.

Gallagher stepped down in the wake of a 15-point drubbing by Galway and in the intervening period these Donegal players have reinvented themselves as a high-tempo, goal-scoring machine that has cut a swathe through Ulster defences this summer.

Bitter pill

For Gallagher, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow, to see the players he had been unable to guide to silverware suddenly transformed.

The Belleek native has rightly won praise for the job he has done with this Fermanagh side to bring them to just their sixth Ulster final.

Having one of the best managers in the country on the sideline meant the Ernesiders who flocked to Clones in their thousands – including DUP leader Arlene Foster – had a genuine belief that this would be their year.

But Fermanagh had no answer to Donegal’s not-so-secret weapon.

For all the scoring ability of Murphy, Patrick McBrearty and Jamie Brennan, Ryan McHugh had been highlighted before the game as the key threat and yet the Kilcar man was still capable of finding holes in the Fermanagh defence when the match hung in the balance.

The wing-back produced the game’s two defining moments; he cut in from the left flank to create the opening goal for Eoghan Ban Gallagher and then repeated the feat for his own three-pointer, which effectively ended the contest with more than 40 minutes still remaining.

Redemption for Bonner

When Declan Bonner succeeded Gallagher in September 2017, he pledged to make sweeping changes to the way his predecessor had done things.

The team had become “too one-dimensional and too predictable” in the view of the 1992 All-Ireland winner and he was determined to harness the young talent within the county that he had helped to nurture.

Bonner’s first spell as Donegal manager ended in disappointment but he restored his coaching reputation by taking the Minors to an All-Ireland final in 2014 and then winning the Ulster Under-21 title last year.

The closest he came to success during his first stint with the senior panel was a heart-breaking Ulster final defeat by Derry in 1998 but on Sunday he returned to St Tiernach’s Park and exorcised that ghost in the sweetest way imaginable.