Glenswilly’s Michael Murphy has always had a strong admiration for Mayo - the land of his father Mick - but this weekend that admiration will be put to bed, as Donegal face the Connacht outfit in a crunch league encounter at Ballyshannon.
Donegal have just two points from their first four games and with just three fixtures left - Dublin away and Armagh in Ballybofey being the final two after Sunday - are in a relegation dogfight to maintain their Division One status.
“There’s a great bit of banter around our house,” the younger Murphy said at the launch of Azzurri’s new footballs, sliotars and hurling helmets this week at Croke Park.
“My father was down at the Killarney game and I’m sure as a Mayo man he will have a split allegence. He is a Mayo man at heart, but I’m sure he’ll let the head rule the heart this weekend and maybe go for Donegal.”
Mayo, like Donegal, were provincial champions and beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists last year and the side from the west have made a promising opening to the top flight, having defeated Laois and Armagh before being bumped back to earth by Down.
However, starting from Sunday, their last four games of the series see them take on the other three provincial winners - Donegal, Kerry and Dublin in a rescheduled fixture after last month’s abandonment at a foggy Castlebar - as well as 2010 All-Ireland champions Cork.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Murphy continued of Sunday. “Mayo are a top class side, they are one of the top three or four teams in Ireland. They have been consistently a class Division One side and it’s going to be a difficult encounter for us.
“But that’s what you play Gaelic for and it’s always preparation towards the Championship and Mayo is going to be a great test for us and one we look forward too. With my father being from Mayo it’s a county I would have always looked out for.
“They have top-class players. They always had down through the years and the current bunch under James Horan have performed extremely well. They had a great season last year and have continued that this year. They have a good blend of youth and experience and very, very dangerous players throughout the whole pitch.”
It’s been a division of ups and downs to date as the bulk of teams struggle to find some consistency in football’s top flight, perhaps putting a lot of eggs in the Championship basket. Donegal travel to take on Cavan at Breffni Park in Cavan on May 20 in the Ulster preliminary round.
“It is an interesting place to be alright,” Murphy said of Division One. “If you look down through all of the divisions there’s teams taking points off everyone and I think that’s the nature of the GAA at the moment.
“All teams are highly prepared and any team can take points off anyone on any given day in the league and I’m sure you’ll see that come through to the Championship too.”
But Murphy admits that such inconsistencies mean that semi-final places are still hugely up for grabs. This season, the powers that be have re-jigged the system and while the bottom two still go down, the top four play off for a place in the league final.
“It’s tough I suppose,” he continues. “Teams are about always trying to win, but they are still looking at the bigger picture as well and the Championship.
“It’s important to strike the balance of trying to win games and maintaining your Division 1 status and at the same time then preparing as best you can for Championship.
That’s what teams are doing and we are no different in Donegal. We are trying to get the best performance that we can and if they yield results for us then we will be happy enough too.”
Focusing specifically on Donegal’s results to date in the league, Murphy says there’s plenty of lessons that have been learned. His manager Jim McGuinness has insisted Division One is the perfect learning ground for such lessons and his captain agrees.
“Any of the defeats we have had thus far in the league have been disappointing and have come as a result of us not performing up to scratch,” Murphy said. “Any game we go out, be it Championship or League is to try and perform to the best of our ability and as I say if that performance yields a result then we will be happy.
“Looking at the Kerry game that was the thing we were disappointed on - in our own performance.
“When you come up against sides like Kerry and any side around the country, if your performance isn’t up to scratch, teams are so well prepared at the moment they are going to just pounce on any mistakes you have made and that’s what happened us at the weekend which was unfortunate.
“We’ll learn from all of those mistakes and just keep driving on until the end of the league and into the Championship.”