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Donegal captain Michael Murphy in final rallying call

By Declan Bogue

For Donegal captain Michael Murphy, the pain of defeat in last year's Ulster final still runs deep. Only beating Monaghan this Sunday in a repeat of that fixture will address it.

"Anyone that says you get over a defeat in a final is wrong. Whether it was losing that final, or the All-Ireland U-21 final in 2010 I will always remember those games," the 25-year-old student reveals.

"People like to say that you do get over them. You never do, but the main thing is to learn. The lesson we took from that, we trained away last year and we did not realise the position we were in, that bodies were down, that there were a lot of injuries, that attendances at training were down as a result of those injuries because as an inter-county footballer you are so selfish, every day you wake up you are thinking about yourself and what you can contribute to the team."

As a result of the mounting injuries that Donegal feel held them back last year, the Glenswilly man reveals that preparations began more gradually this season, building to the pre-Championship warm-weather training in camp in Portugal.

As a result, it feels more like Jim McGuinness' first two years in charge.

"It has all got to do with results, everyone looks back at last year and it was patchy, we got relegated and the doubters were out," Murphy explains, before noting that the league final defeat to Monaghan briefly took the shine off the campaign.

In the Championship to date, Murphy has found himself alternating between full-forward and midfield in a bid to get into the game more. Against Derry he was well-shackled from open play and restricted to one point by Chrissy McKaigue.

Antrim's makeshift full-back Sean McVeigh restricted him to the same but the bolt-ons of Murphy's game make him such an asset.

In Donegal's third-quarter blitz of Derry, he was an effective target man winning ball played into him, and crushed Derry's spirit by slotting over an improbable sideline kick from the right touchline. Against Antrim, he withdrew from the full-forward line to create space for others, to great effect, acknowledged by McVeigh who confessed, "He is very smart.

"You watch the most of that second half, he just brought me out in front of the dugouts and we just stood there.

"It's very frustrating because I knew exactly what he was doing, he knew what he was doing but there was nothing I could do about it."

Murphy is happy playing that kind of selfless role, stating, "We were able to get scores from other sectors of the field, from other people. Then when I, Colm (McFadden), Patrick (McBrearty) and 'Jigger' (Darach O'Connor) get the scores, people will start saying why don't other people get scores.

"It is a much of a muchness trying to get that balance around the field, You look at all the top teams, Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Cork, Tyrone, Monaghan and they get scores from all over the pitch.

"Look at the Monaghan/Armagh game and the scores that came from all around the field – that is just the way the modern game has gone."

Talking of O'Connor, Murphy recalls how he went along to the Donegal V Tyrone U21 Championship game in 2013 with the McGee brothers in Healy Park and how the young Buncrana man – who only finished school this summer, caught the eye that night with his direct running.

That same night up in the Press box, Jim McGuinness and then-assistant Rory Gallagher duly noted his eye for goal, which was something he demonstrated to great effect with his incredible strike in the semi-final against Antrim.

"He has pace, agility, skill, everything we wanted and hopefully he can keep ticking on through the year and he might get the best out of us older and slower bucks," Murphy enthuses.

"There is a certain bit of maturity there, even compared to my time in 2007 when you came in and you were prepared to slave away for a bit of time in the subs for a couple of years before you might get the chance to break through.

"The whole thing is changing now, you see young players coming in and they are able to make an immediate impact. That is down to the fact they have a lot more know-how. They know what is going on. There are so many different aspects of diet, training, video analysis and tactical sessions but they have seen it all already so it's no big deal when thrown at them."

The effect of O'Connor, along with the semi-final man-of-the-match Odhran MacNiallais plus others such as Martin O'Reilly and Luke Keaney, means Donegal now have serious depth and options.

For sure, they are a different animal than last year.

Belfast Telegraph


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