Anthony Molloy hails Michael Murphy as greatest Donegal player of all time
DONEGAL’S first All-Ireland SFC-winning captain has hailed their second as “the greatest Donegal player of all time”.
Anthony Molloy also believes a fit Michael Murphy can lead Tír Chonaill back to the Ulster title next year - and maybe more, especially if Murphy’s Glenswilly clubmate Neil Gallagher is also playing.
So how injured was Michael Murphy last year? It has been widely claimed he was not his usual self: “I do know that he injured his ankle badly playing against my own club Ardara,” says Molloy.
“I know for a fact that ankle injuries are hard to shrug off and I think that it might have affected his free-taking as well. I think we saw the real Michael Murphy in the county final.
“He is the greatest Donegal player of all time and he has taken Glenswilly to where they are and that is not disregarding his team-mates. When you have probably the best player in the country on your team and he clicks on the day it is very hard to see who is going to beat you.”
Molloy also referenced the return of Neil Gallagher as being central to county and club success: “Neil has not played much all year with a back injury, but he made a huge contribution in the county final as well,” he added.
And Donegal badly missed Gallagher this year: “Neil Gallagher was a massive loss - going back to the 2012 All-Ireland victory, Neil Gallagher had a huge bearing on it.
“You always need a ball-winner and Neil Gallagher is absolutely outstanding in that department. Also, he links very well with Michael Murphy and that was proved in the county final with a direct accurate ball in that led to the crucial goal. He was a huge loss to us this year”.
Molloy reckons Donegal’s 2017 ‘Ulster final’ could come in the semi-final of next year’s competition. Donegal have lost the last two Ulster finals by one-point margins, the most recent coming in July when Tyrone, who trailed for most of the match, took the title thanks largely to two superb long-range points form Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte.
“I think we were the better team in the Ulster final on the day, but lost because we did not keep playing the way we played on the earlier part of the match,” said 1992 All-Ireland skipper Molloy.
But Molloy is convinced the county has an excellent chance of bouncing back from those two narrow, but bitter defeats and much will depend on how they fare against the winner of Derry and Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final.
“You could not have asked for a better first round draw and it is a home venue for us, which makes the preparation a wee bit easier," he added.
“With no disrespect to Antrim, it is a good start to the campaign and really and truly we should be progressing to the next round”.
But there is an almost Armageddon feel to the next match, according to Molloy: “There is no doubt but that it will be like an Ulster final and, I suppose looking back on this year, we had Tyrone beaten and we let them back into it.
“I am not disregarding Antrim, but we should get through and Tyrone should beat Derry, so it will be really like an Ulster final.”
So what went wrong in last year’s Ulster decider? “I think we were four points up at one stage, but we hung back and went far too defensive," Molloy said.
“Hopefully, we can learn from that and maybe we should have put a few more long balls into Murphy. Rory [Gallagher] would have looked at all that already and, if we get over Antrim, it will probably be Tyrone next year and hopefully we would have learned from our Ulster final defeat.”
Molloy is convinced Donegal are more than capable of going one better next season: "There is no doubt that we are one of the best teams in Ulster and hopefully there will be some new lads coming in. Also, I have not heard of too many more retirements apart from Colm McFadden and Eamon McGee.
“I think there are some very good minors coming through from 2014 and some very good U21s. There is no doubt that there is an Ulster title in Donegal. Murphy has a good few years left and, once you come out of Ulster, anything can happen”.
So is there a bit of hurt from those two stinging Ulster final defeats? “It is bound to spurt them, on especially if they come up against Tyrone again and, also, there is the fact that we were not too far away against Dublin," Molloy answers.
“I think if we had pushed up a bit more when Dublin went a man down who knows what kind of a result we would have got? I think we stayed a bit defensive that day as well so hopefully we will have learned from all of those defeats last year.
“We are still a very good side, with loads of potential."