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Donegal are good enough to halt fifth successive Sam

Champions: Ryan McHugh celebrates Donegal’s success
Champions: Ryan McHugh celebrates Donegal’s success
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

At the start of the decade, Donegal were in a very delicate place. In the dressing room ahead of the 2011 Ulster final, their manager Jim McGuinness held up pictures of every captain that had lifted the Anglo-Celt Cup since Donegal had last managed it in 1992.

He asked some players to name the captain. He came to Ryan Bradley and was holding a picture of Derry captain Henry Downey. He realised after a while that Bradley hadn't a clue who Downey was and discreetly moved on.

That evening there was a new captain climbing the steps of Clones. Michael Murphy went up there at the age of 22.

Before that day, Donegal had won the Ulster Championship a total of five times. Murphy has now captained them to five titles as they have enjoyed their greatest ever period of football.

It is absolutely no surprise that this period and Murphy's career have overlapped. Colm O'Rourke's contention that Murphy has deficiencies shows how badly out of touch the highest-profile analysts can be.

In the 2011 final, it took a Murphy penalty to wrestle the game away from Derry. A high ball into the square had Murphy tracking its flight. He collided with Derry goalkeeper Danny Devlin and a penalty was awarded. Naturally, Murphy buried it.

The journey that player and county have been on since has been remarkable in countless ways, but the evolution of their game has been incredible.

On Sunday, they conceded 2-16 and still won the Ulster title comfortably. The perception of Ulster football has been flipped entirely in one summer.

Now, Donegal teem with attacking talent, the rest of the nation waking up to Jamie Brennan's talents belatedly. And they don't even have Odhran MacNiallais and Cian Mulligan to call on right now.

Right now they sit second favourites for Sam behind five-in-a-row chasing Dublin.

Given the football they are playing, it all makes sense.

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