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All-Ireland final: Donegal's Michael Murphy out to increase Kerry's woes

By Declan Bogue

Donegal captain Michael Murphy has pledged to add to Kerry's indifferent record in the All-Ireland series against Ulster teams when the sides meet in tomorrow's final at Croke Park (3.30pm).

Armagh, in 2002, and Tyrone – in 2005 and 2008 – have beaten the Kingdom on the showpiece day. Donegal also accounted for them in the 2012 quarter-final and Down maintained their 100 per cent Championship record against them when winning at the same stage in 2010.

Murphy maintains that last month's brilliant performance against Dublin, when Donegal upset odds of 7/1 to down the reigning champions, will mean little if they cannot take Sam Maguire back to The Hills.

"It will count for absolutely nothing if we don't come away with the right result in the final," said Murphy, who lifted Sam as captain in 2012.

"That's what the focus and energy is channelled towards. We want to deliver the right kind of performance in this final. Everything else to date means jack all now."

He admits playing Kerry on a day like tomorrow is the stuff of childhood dreams.

"If you were sitting down to write an essay," he explained, "you were playing Kerry and it was the All-Ireland final.

"You always came out on the favourable end of the result then. But it won't be as easy in the flesh."

Donegal are believed to have travelled down yesterday in a novel move that concludes their exhaustive preparations, having conducted training camps in Inisowen, Portugal, Mullingar and Enniskillen this season.

They could be staying at their usual haunt of Johnstown House and switch to CityWest after the game.

Kerry traditionally take the train up on the day before the final and their hotel is believed to be Dunboyne Castle.

Trying to pick a winner and form the logical basis for it is always tough, this year more than ever.

Put it this way, when was the last time Kerry looked as if they were just coming up the road for the day?

And Donegal are a different animal under Jim McGuinness, but appear to be champions-elect after their miracle performance against Dublin.

But neither of these perceptions stand up to scrutiny. Can you go from outsiders to certainties in just one match? Possibly.

"It's going to be a completely different game to 2012," says Murphy about the only other time these two met in Championship football.

"I don't think it will have any bearing on either side's psyche. People were saying the Dublin game would be similar to 2011 but that wasn't the case."

He couldn't be more on the money.

In 2012, Kerry were caught cold by Donegal's physicality. Colm McFadden hit a booming point early on. The same man also flighted in a sideline ball that hit a greasy surface and ended up behind Brendan Kealy in the net. There were two points in it at the end. Those are the margins.

The broad feeling was that Donegal reached their very peak around that time. On an individual basis that probably is true as some players have never been quite what they were back then. But as a unit, their confidence and belief in each other has only grown.

As Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney points out, Kerry are practically guaranteed an All-Ireland quarter-final every year such is the paucity of the exchanges in Munster. That equips them with huge big-game experience and they never appear overawed by their surroundings.

There is also a blue-collar look about them in the tackle too, now that the lessons of trainer Cian O'Neill have been absorbed.

When McGuinness sat down to tease out Kerry's weaknesses after beating Dublin, their appalling goal concession will have got the pulse racing. Galway stole in for two, Tom Flynn's solo effort showing up a soft centre.

Andy Moran and Cillian O'Connor's goals, and indeed O'Connor's penalty, shows that they are not all that comfortable with the ball drilled in high and long. It all points towards a more advanced role early in the game for Murphy in a bid to unsettle Kerry.

When Murphy gets forward, goals happen; take the three against Dublin.

For the first, Rory Kavanagh pumped in the ball and Murphy did not gather at the first attempt but ripped it out of Michael Fitzsimons' grip to cause the spill. McFadden ushered it to Ryan McHugh who finished.

For the second, Murphy ghosted out towards Anthony Thompson, attracting two defenders and leaving the space in front of goal vacant for McHugh to steal into and flick home, and for the third it was his flick from a Paul Durcan kickout that set the wheels in motion.

Goals will win it, for either side. But we can't see past the team that continues to defy.

VERDICT: Donegal by three points.

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