Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Donegal on road back to the top

Donegal captain Michael Murphy believes that the extent to which gaelic football has moved on over the course of recent years will be reflected when the Allianz League finals are played at Croke Park on Sunday.

Dublin and Derry will do battle for the league trophy proper while Murphy's side will take on Monaghan in the Division Two decider.

The Donegal squad returned last Thursday from a week-long training camp in Portugal at which manager Jim McGuinness employed his motivational rhetoric in building an even closer bond between the players.

Given that the bulk of his starting side on Sunday will be drawn from the 2012 All-Ireland winning squad, this would not have been a particularly difficult task but skipper Murphy pinpoints what he sees as a crucial element in the modern game.

"It is very important for managers to keep squads, rather just teams, happy," insists Murphy.

"This maybe is not always the easiest of jobs but Jim continues to create a good spirit within our camp.

"When you look at the preparation in terms of fitness, conditioning and commitment, you can see how the game has moved on.

"It is played with great intensity at a faster pace and every player in the squad has to be able to play his part as and when required."

Donegal discovered to their cost just how Monaghan in particular have moved on when they lost last year's Ulster Championship final by 0-13 to 0-7.

It's very seldom that Donegal will return such a meagre score and it's not surprising that McGuinness and skipper Murphy are now summoning a much more committed and lucrative performance from their players this time round.

McGuinness is convinced that the week spent in sunnier climes will provide a considerable boost to his side for Sunday's eagerly anticipated renewal of hostilities with Malachy O'Rourke's men.

"We wanted to work on things and streamline a few areas of our game," says McGuinness.

"Besides, when you are away at a training camp, it is easier for managers to talk to players on a one to one basis.

"We all learn a little bit more about ourselves and each other on such trips – they can be hugely beneficial," states McGuinness.

While Donegal sweated in the sun as McGuinness cracked the whip in training, Monaghan remained at home where manager O'Rourke continues to monitor the fitness of key players Eoin Lennon, Dessie Mone and Owen Duffy.

He had been hoping to name a full-strength team within the next 24 hours but this may not now be possible.

While the league provided O'Rourke with a ration of additional strength in depth, he wants as many of his big guns as possible on duty on Sunday.

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