Donegal debutant Dermot Molloy’s first taste of championship football whetted the appetite for more of the same before his summer was cut short, so now the Naomh Conaill forward is willing to take the one step at a time strategy.
Twelve months ago John Joe Doherty sprung something of a surprise when he threw Molloy into the sultry atmosphere of the Ulster championship meeting with Down in Ballybofey. Molloy had starred as the U-21’s managed by Jim McGuinness plotted their way to an All-Ireland final. Their path brought back unexpected but pleasant memories of the seniors of a generation beforehand.
Alongside Michael Murphy, Molloy was the sharpness to the Donegal arrow. Both men combined to rack up all the scores in the Ulster final win over Cavan at Brewster Park and on the night of the All-Ireland final itself at Breffni Park, Molloy was Donegal’s standout performer.
That U-21 team and their progress to the heartbreaking loss, though, showed an undercurrent of talent was streaming in. It was noted that Donegal would benefit in years to come, although it was only a matter of weeks before the 19-year-old was thrown into the senior fray.
There were scant few signs of edginess, though, as Molloy was central to all Donegal’s early positivity. In the first half alone he bagged a goal and three points, proof of the old idiom of the duck and water.
Donegal’s initial progression proved a powderpuff as Down truimphed in extra-time thanks to a late Brendan Coulter goal. That night as the day ran through his head Molloy was disappointed with the result but content with his own debut. However, as he watched The Sunday Game, Tony Davis spoke about an incident that showed Molloy sling an elbow in the direction of Damien Rafferty.
As the wheels turned on the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee review, referee Joe McQuillan stated that he would’ve sent off the Donegal forward had he seen had he seen the incident. Molloy was to get a four-week ban, ruling him out of Donegal’s daunting first round qualifer against Armagh in Crossmaglen.
“It was a dream debut to get the goal and then three points against Down last year,” Molloy says. “I suppose for any young lad it would’ve been but then I learned my season was effectively over when I heard the news from the CCCC, who had spotted a that elbow that wasn’t. I was actually away with Michael and Leo at a Cadbury’s award night for the U-21s and the messages came through on my phone.
“It was a downer, my family were even more than I was. I really enjoyed my debut and was looking forward to the Armagh game and it was only then the shock crept in when I realised I wouldn’t be part of it.”
The duration of the ban had ceased after Donegal’s season had concluded and Molloy would have to show his patience. Jim McGuinness, a native of Glenties and the man who had taken Molloy and the U-21s to the All-Ireland final had taken control. Donegal finished their Allianz National Football League Division Two campaign on the steps of the Lower Hogan Stand.
“I enjoyed the league campaign this year, “ Molloy adds. “I haven’t been scoring as much as I would like but it’s down to the workrate that Jim is after. It would be nice to get on a few balls though on Sunday and get a few goals or points or whatever just to help put the team. I will do my best to do my job.
“The U-21 run last year was a great experience and Jim has brought that one game at a time mentality to the seniors now. It worked with us last year and hopefully we can gather momentum this year like we did last year.”
Come Sunday, Molloy’s long wait for a second championship appearance will finally come to and end. Antrim rolled into two as huge outsiders two years ago and Donegal were the sitting duck. The shock reverberated around the country. Whatever about the importance of revenge, Donegal’scontempories are merely concerned with getting their championship campaign off to a competant start.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Molloy says. “We haven’t got a result here in a few years but it’d be great to put that to bed and finally get a result in the Ulster championship.
“People are saying we might be dark horses for Ulster but as a group of players we are not saying that. Antrim is all that we are thinking about. If you get carried away at this stage and start thinking about Ulster finals or semi-finals you are not going to concentrate on what’s important right now and that’s Antrim. If we can get through that we will plan for the next game.
“I remember two years ago well. I played the minor game beforehand and I enjoyed the game scoring five points. We stood out to watch the senior game afterwards when the rain started. The days was going well and I thought it would be a big day but Donegal flopped that day and everyone went out the gate with a sick feeling in their stomachs. Antrim were the hungrier side and that has stuck with a lot of the players that were involved that day. It’s up to us to do something about it come Sunday.”