Danny Hughes: It's time for Rory Gallagher to unleash Michael Murphy at the edge of the square
I DON'T think anyone could have foreseen Tyrone beating Donegal the way they did, by as much as they did.
This was a mauling and the margin of nine points should have been much more.
I admit that I have questioned whether Tyrone have the firepower to compete with Dublin, Mayo and Kerry.
Having been to most of Tyrone’s Championships games this year and last, I thought they were still far too negative.
Mattie Donnelly and, at times, Sean Cavanagh were the sole threats.
From Donegal’s perspective, last Sunday’s game represented the perfect storm.
They were off the pace and Tyrone were very much on it.
Sometimes when the physical or mental mindset in a team is weakened, a number of events in a game – small chances missed or errors made – can cause a catastrophic collapse.
This weakening may arise from factors such as age-profile, retirements, injuries or a lack of form.
Donegal had to deal with these on Sunday, and it’s not the first time.
It’s not a criticism of any one person, it’s just the way it is, like natural selection.
Donegal’s Eoin McHugh missing a one-on-one midway through the first half could have changed the dynamic of the game.
On the other hand, Tyrone took their chances and on those moments the game’s outcome was decided.
What happened on Sunday isn’t new for Donegal.
Under Jim McGuinness in 2013 the reigning All-Ireland champions suffered a serious hiding in Croke Park against Mayo.
When Donegal play poorly and every player is not maximising his performance, not only are they beaten, they are – worryingly –hammered.
I know how it feels.
It started in 2011 onwards with Down, when the disappointment of being beaten in an All-Ireland final the previous year obviously left scars which never fully healed.
Mayo and Cork both took turns at giving us a couple of Croke Park trimmings in subsequent years.
Donegal’s main players simply didn’t play well enough against their Tyrone counterparts.
They are still top players but collectively they had an off-day.
They are a ‘greater than the sum of their parts’ team and to win they all need to be operating at full capacity.
At the end of the first half, Ryan McHugh won a free and up until then I thought he had been injured in the warm-up and I had missed him being replaced.
I have never seen him as subdued and when that happens to your main playmaker someone else needed to stand up.
Donegal’s Mr Universe, Michael Murphy, looks like a man who has played too much football, taken too many knocks and is generally missing that edge he carried for so many years.
He is the best full-forward in the country but hasn’t played there in years and is no longer afforded the luxury of taking up this position for 20 minutes in a game.
It seems that he is needed too much elsewhere.
I wonder about the impact this is having on Murphy’s game.
Yes, he is making a sacrifice for the good of the team, but somewhere along the line, you have to say: I want to play in my best position and do what I do best.
But he is captain and the expectation will be that he will do what the manager decides is best for the team.
If Aidan O’Shea represents a modern-day emancipated Gaelic footballer, Michael Murphy is the opposite.
Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh has lasted 15 long years, won many accolades, played in many different positions and has increasingly taken on an elder statesman role.
Stationed at full-forward, he has that freedom to drift into that position and to take a break from out-and-out defending if needs be.
He has tailored his game effectively. Whether this has been of his own making or generated by Mickey Harte, it is working for the benefit of Tyrone.
Rory Gallagher is doing neither Murphy nor himself any favours in not taking a more ruthless perspective on Murphy’s best position, one which will enable him to achieve 15 years of service similar to that of Sean Cavanagh.
Based on last Sunday’s performance, Tyrone will be odds-on to retain the Anglo-Celt Cup.
However, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
The ultimate test will be in Croke Park against one of the top three teams.
If they can rack up the kind of scores they have done so far in the Championship against any of these teams, then the so-called experts will be eating humble pie.
At that point, Tyrone may well add to the three All-Ireland titles.
THE Qualifiers have already dumped one Ulster Championship team – Antrim – out of the All-Ireland series.
With Fermanagh, Armagh, Cavan and Donegal all due to play over the next few weeks, a June exit will be hard to take for many of these players and their managers.
I would say the hotline to the USA is already warming up, with a few itchy-footed county players already securing behind-the-scenes offers from wealthy foreign donors.
Gearoid Adams and Frank Fitzsimons have done a good job in Antrim, though that has perhaps not translated into results.
Having built a new squad virtually from scratch, the joint-managers have been well received by the players.
Being relegated and having two matches in the Championship will never be viewed as progress, but something you cannot buy is experience and if the management can keep the nucleus of the squad together and build on this year, returning to Division Three will be a probable outcome.
Low ebbs occur in every county and the feelings experienced by Donegal players will be no different to Antrim’s this week.
Down experienced this in 2016 and this Saturday represents the best chance of reaching an Ulster final since 2012.
There have been many low days since then but, come Saturday, a win against Monaghan will make it all a distant memory.