ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP, DONEGAL V ANTRIM

Donegal not taking Antrim challenge lightly - Murphy

Captain is all too aware of the threat that Antrim carry

Tom Comack

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Tom Comack

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sport@donegaldemocrat.com

Donegal not taking Antrim challenge lightly - Murphy

Michael Murphy

If anyone needs reminding of the unpredictability of Antrim, Donegal captain, Michael Murphy, is not one of those people.
Murphy is all too well aware the potential threat lowly Antrim will bring to Ballybofey this weekend.
The skipper in his senior career to date has faced the Ulster minnows twice in the opening round of the Ulster Championship, both in MacCumhaill Park.
The first of those was in 2009, a game and result that sent shockwaves right around Donegal and way beyond the county’s boundaries.
Lowly Antrim, that weren’t given a prayer ahead of the game, pipped the John Joe Doherty managed Donegal by a point.
Michael Murphy was only 19 at the time - he did not turn 20 until the following August - and was still finding his feet at senior level.
He scored five of Donegal’s points that day from full forward. But it wasn’t enough as Antrim won on a score of 1-10 to 0-12.
“Looking back now, it was a very low point,” said Michael last week as he faced the media. .
“I suppose for me at the time I was only a young fella. I was trying to get myself into the team.
“Yes, it was massively disappointing losing a championship game. But at that stage we were losing them fairly regularly. It was a shock and something you don’t want to happen.
“But was it a really, really massive shock when you look back? Probably it wasn’t. Antrim had good players. We were at home and we were expected to win. It doesn’t always turn out like that.
“As the game drifted on that day, it probably was inevitable. There was only going to be one winner. It’s turned a wee bit since but again who is to say it can’t happen again.”
His abiding memory from that game was about everything going wrong. But he also insisted that Antrim in 2009 were a good side with an abundance of football ability.
“They showed all that on the day. They had the McCanns (Michael and Thomas) and (Kevin) Niblock. “They had the whole works and they really went at it. We just couldn’t stem the tide and it progressively got worse as the game wore on.”
Michael admitted that the Donegal dressing room was a lonely place afterwards. And facing supporters after an embarrassing defeat was difficult to say the least.
“It wasn’t good. In fairness, we turned it around a bit after that. We got back at it.
“Looking back it was probably inevitable as things weren’t going well. Players weren’t performing and we weren’t performing as a group.”
“Being brutally honest it was no different than to any dressing room after any Ulster defeat.
“People looked at it as a massive shock but I suppose you look back at us at that time; we weren’t playing that well.
“We hadn’t won many games in Ulster to have any great expectations. Confidence was at a really low ebb.”
Donegal got their chance to avenge that 2009 defeat two years later, in the second of those opening round games against the Saffrons, for Michael Murphy.
This time it was a preliminary round, back in MacCumhaill Park.
Jim McGuinness had taken over from John Joe Doherty the previous Autumn and green shoots had begun to appear in the Spring of 2011.
McGuinness had guided Donegal to a seventh Ulster U-21 championship and the width of a crossbar from a third All-Ireland U-21 title.
Michael was the U-21 captain and McGuinness appointed him senior captain at the beginning of 2011, while still 21.
“We went into that game with a small bit of form and a small bit of know-how.
“I know it was a different game but there were players that played through an Ulster campaign in 2010 with the U21s.
“There were players that had just come through a National League campaign under Jim and Rory.
“That probably was the difference from 2009.
“There was a bit of belief there from winning games. If you compare that with the early part of the 2009 season there was very little there.
“You just can’t flick on and off come May/June. Football doesn’t work like that.”
That game came in for a lot of criticism and the Sunday Game crew went to town on Donegal on their style of play. That game marked the unveiling of Jim McGuinness’s much maligned defensive system.
“It was a win. It was a first win in Ulster for a lot of us. Yeah, I know it probably wasn’t a great spectacle.
“Even playing in it, it was tight and very claustrophobic.
“We probably huffed and puffed that day and didn’t play that well. Mark (McHugh) got a goal midway through the second-half and it gave us a bit of breathing space. Up until that, it was fairly tight.”
Mark McHugh’s goal set Donegal up for a 1-10 to 0-7 win, in the first step on the road to a sixth Ulster senior crown.
Similarities are being made between the Donegal teams of 2011 and 2017.
A rich crop of good young and exciting footballers like Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Jason McGee, Michael Langan, Michael Carroll, Ciaran Thompson, Cian Mulligan, Jamie Brennan and Kieran Gillespie have come through the underage ranks and a good degree of underage success in recent years.
These players made a seamless transition up from minor and U-21 in the course of this season’s Dr McKenna Cup and the National League.
And with the experienced old guard of Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Patrick McBrearty along with the skipper all showing good form, hopes are high of a new bright dawn for Donegal is on the horizon.
Donegal missed out on a league final place on score average to Kerry, who went on to beat Dublin in the final.
Antrim, on the other hand, won just two games and drew one in Division Three and were relegated and will play Division Four football in 2018.
Yet, despite this Michael Murphy is not taking the Saffron challenge lightly. Far from it, 2009 and that MacCumhaill Park mugging is still too fresh in his mind.
And it is for this reason that the captain insists that it is not at all difficult to get into focus for the visit of the minnows from the East.
“It’s no different than any other game. Just like tonight in training. We all have to go out there and prove ourselves over and over again.
“Whether that’s in training for the Tyrones and Dublins of this world or Antrim next Sunday. Every single time you pull on a Donegal jersey you have to prove yourself.
“You’re not going to win a game in modern football without that.
“The way teams are set up, the way they are organised nowadays they are going to be at the races and they are going to have that patch in any given game.
“You try to negate that and then look at areas we can pinpoint and go at ourselves. We’ve our own standards as a group of players and a game plan too that we want to aim for.”
What does Michael Murphy think of Antrim?
“They are a damn good side. They have very good footballers right throughout the team. There will be a few new faces involved this year that we probably don’t know an awful lot about or wouldn’t have come up against in other years. For a long time they probably had a lot of the same bodies.
“I know they have sharpshooters that will hurt you if you give them the chance. I’ve come up against CJ McGourty quite a bit. He’s one of their main men. We’ll have to make sure we keep a good eye on him from play and frees.
“We’ve got to be prepared for that and for Antrim.”