MICHAEL MURPHY might’ve been the man who last season lofted the Anglo-Celt Cup aloft but the Donegal captain maintains Saturday’s opponents Tyrone remain the blueprint in Ulster.
Whereas Murphy was the first Donegal man to get his hands on the Ulster championship trophy since Anthony Molloy captained the side in 1992, Tyrone have won four provincial titles and three All-Irelands in the last decade.
The sides meet in Clones on Saturday evening in what promises to be a blockbuster and some might suggest the balance of power is shifting towards Donegal. A place in the Ulster final against Down, who came from nine points down to defeat Monaghan on Sunday, is the prize for the winners.
“Tyrone have a hell of a lot of three-time All-Ireland winners and they’ve won Ulster after Ulster,” Murphy said. “That’s something we can only strive to be like but that’s the place you want to be in, taking on the best teams. Tyrone will come all guns blazing.
“There’s real good teams in Ulster. You could see that with Down and Monaghan on Sunday - both sides gave good account of themselves. Down will be a confident team going into the final. It’s just a minefield but when you’re looking at consistency over the last couple of years then there’s Tyrone and Armagh.
“They’ve been there year in and year out. They’re the benchmark for everyone else and this year and Tyrone showed their strength in winning at the Athletic Grounds.”
Murphy was part of the Donegal side that defeated Tyrone 2-6 to 0-9 in last year’s Ulster semi-final. That particular afternoon saw both teams portray their varying positives and negatives.
Mickey Harte’s Tyrone steamrolled Donegal for large parts of the first half, leading by 0-5 top 0-1 at the stage but it was the team managed by Jim McGuinness who had the legs for the long grass. Late goals from Colm McFadden and Dermot Molloy set Donegal on their way.
“Tyrone is a massive proposition,” Murphy added. “Last year they taught us a lesson, especially in the first half and it was only in the second half we got a little rub of the green and we got the goals at the right time.
“Tyrone could have been out of sight at half-time. We can’t leave it to chance again and we’re just going to knuckle down.”
Twenty-two-year-old Murphy has had a frustrating season to date. He missed the first two games of the National Football League having undergone surgery on a groin injury and having helped Donegal to wins over Cork and Mayo, hobbled off against Dublin at Croke Park on Match’s last Saturday.
A lateral knee ligament injury was the extent of the damage and that injury forced Murphy to watch the first game in the defence of the Ulster championship, a 1-16 to 1-10 win over Cavan, from the sidelines.
Two weeks ago, though, against Derry in the provincial quarter-final at a wet and windy Ballybofey, Murphy came through a pre-match fitness test and lined out from the start in Donegal’s 2-13 to 0-9 win over Derry.
“I was glad to get back at it against Derry,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Between one injury and the next it’s been quite a stop-start year so far.
“By no means was it a finished performance as there’s still a lot of areas we’d like to work on and a hell of a lot of things need improving but from a personal point of view it was good to be involved.
“I felt grand afterwards. All credit to the medical staff and the strength and conditioners on the Donegal team. An injury doesn’t mean you can rest on the sidelines any more. You have to keep up the fitness as well.
“Any time you win an Ulster championship game there will always be a few positives. We’ve been working on our attacking game and we can take a lot out of putting a few goals on the scoreboard.”