People can laugh and snigger all they want: Michael Murphy
WHEN Donegal conceded 4-17 to Mayo on that famous August afternoon in Croke Park three years ago, they said it couldn’t be sustained.
The All-Ireland crown had been ripped from their heads by the side they’d beaten in the final 11 months previous, and there were plenty who thought Donegal wouldn’t be back.
A year down the line, they were back in an All-Ireland final, having beaten ‘the unbeatables’. Dublin were torn apart. They couldn’t quite finish the job against Kerry, but notions had been dismissed.
A disappointing 2015 campaign and a poor end to this year’s League have led to the most sustained questioning Donegal have faced. Ten points shy of Dublin in the National League semi-final, the legs and the heart have been questioned. But over 70 minutes with Fermanagh and 140 with Monaghan, some answers have been provided.
Their captain Michael Murphy says “people can snigger and laugh all they want”, but it won’t affect the Tír Chonaill bid for further glory as they now find themselves in a sixth straight Ulster final.
“People have been writing us off since day one, since we started. People can snigger and laugh all they want, but we’re doing it on a weekly basis, and it hasn’t really taken a flinch out of the team, and nor will it. We’ll just keep going and trying to do our county proud.”
It took every ounce to get past Monaghan in Saturday’s replay, though the Donegal performance merited a more handsome win than the one-point margin. They completely outplayed Malachy O’Rourke’s side in the first-half but led by just two points at the break, thanks to opportunist goals, one created and one finished by Conor McManus.
While pleased with how Donegal reacted to those setbacks, Murphy knows that better sides may not let up if they’re let in like that: “The responses were good, but to put ourselves in those scenarios to begin with wasn’t ideal. Those are the areas we’re going to look at.
“The mistake of the first goal, you can’t offer up those opportunities to a team of Monaghan’s class. Penalties, Conor McManus, the class that he shows those are always going to be easy chances for him.
“The responses from that were quite good. You can be happy with that. But we’ll be looking in the coming weeks to eliminate the errors, because as you move further and further through the summer, teams won’t give you the chance to come back from those errors.”
The fact that Donegal were the better side in both games would have counted for very little if Kieran Duffy’s late effort had carried another few feet and cleared Mark Anthony McGinley’s crossbar.
On that basis, Murphy wasn’t getting too excited with his side’s performances, preferring to focus on the outcome instead: “You don’t necessarily take huge amounts from that. Championship football’s to be won. You look down through the years at things you won and things you lost.
“Performances, yes, are fantastic to get along the way, but you have to win. You have to win first and foremost. Performances have been relatively ok. Monaghan would have been relatively happy with their performances over the games, and we would have been relatively happy with our own. We got a bit of the rub of the green today maybe and they didn’t. There are a lot of areas we’ll have to improve going into Tyrone, it’s another huge step.”
July 17 will provide him with the chance to climb the St Tiernach’s Park steps and collect the Anglo-Celt Cup for the fourth time in six years: “It’s absolutely massive. An Ulster final is a huge place to be. It’s a big platform and it’s where you want to perform. I’m very, very proud of all the lads.”