It may be early days and one swallow never made a summer but Donegal captain Michael Murphy is happy with the way the year has begun.
The Glenswilly man, who led the county to its second All-Ireland title in 2012, feels the early signs look good and bode well for the year ahead.
He is also very happy with the new man on the bridge Jim McGuinness’s replacement Rory Gallagher, and feels the Fermanagh man, given his previous experience with the squad, was the right man for the job.
While he insists that it is early days yet and no silverware is handed out in February, he admits to being impressed with early season form. And he was greatly encouraged with last Saturday night’s opening league victory over Derry in Ballybofey.
“It was a grand start. At half-time, people might have thought it would pan out differently. Once we got in, had a chat about it and tweaked a few things, we put in a better type of a performance,” said the captain.
“There’s no hiding the fact that we weren’t with them in the first half. It was the first day out, players were gelling together and Derry caught us out couple of times in the first half. But it was positive the way we came out in the second half. The two points in the home games are crucial,” the skipper insisted.
Seen very much as Jim McGuinness’s general on the field, the Glenswilly man is more than happy with the seamless transition from his former boss to the new man Rory Gallagher.
“Rory has been there before for three years. We all know him and he knows us. He’s been trying to unearth a few new players and I think he’s been very successful in that.
“It was the right way to go and it’s great to get him on board. He was a big part of it when he was involved with Jim before.
“You can make all you want about managers and in terms of getting the thing all together, of course it’s a big part of it. But a lot of it is down to the players and their attitudes, hunger and desire.
“That has been the most encouraging thing since the departure of Jim and the arrival of Rory. The way the players have put their hands up.
“The whole environment around the squad is very encouraging, I have to say. Training is very enjoyable and there’s a freshness with the new players coming in.”
The freshness of youth is one thing but the former young footballer and current All-Star admitted that he has also been greatly heartened by the attitude and appetite shown by the older members of the squad.
“The ‘older’ players, if you want to call them that, have come back in with great hunger. When you blend that together for games it’s boding well. It’s early yet, though, so we’ll keep the heads down.”
In particular, he has found the attitude and application of his club colleague Neil Gallagher and the ageless Christy Toye especially reassuring going forward.
“Neil and Christy lead the way and they’re consistent with their performances. They’re standout players for any new player who comes into the squad. The performances they churn out every week is the standard for other players looking to get game time.
“Even for those of us getting games, it’s something we’d aspire to. They look after themselves well and they manage injuries well. They give us a great platform around the midfield.”
KAVANAGH A GREAT SERVANT
On the recently retired Rory Kavanagh he had this to say: “He’s been a great servant for Donegal and was an integral member of the squad over the years.
“For me as captain, he was always great to bounce things off and he was a great leader in the squad. He’s a big loss. As Rory has said himself, it’s a chance now for others to put their hand up and I think players are doing that. They see that there’s a place there to be got.”
He also admitted to being hopeful of seeing Leo McLoone, who has yet to return to training, back in the squad before not too long and certainly by the time May, and Tyrone, come around in the championship.
“After a long, hard few years, players are finding their feet and getting back into it.
“Some maybe like to get back sooner, some deal with things differently. Hopefully Leo will be back by the time the year turns and when the ground gets a bit harder we’d want him to have reversed his decision. We look forward to getting everyone on board again. We need everyone.
“If that is the case, brilliant, but if it isn’t we’ll just have to keep going. I wouldn’t say ‘replacements’ as such, but we have in the squad able people to push things on in the direction we want to go.”
Last Saturday night’s game might have worked out all right for Donegal after an indifferent first half.
But sitting back and allowing the opposition to run at them, as Derry did on Saturday night in the opening half, was not a tactic employed by Donegal.
Nor was it a grand plan concocted by new boss Rory Gallagher.
“In an ideal world, you want to lead the game after five minutes. That doesn’t always happen, especially in Division One. These teams aren’t in Division One by chance. They are all very good teams and they’ll all have a purple patch.
“We just needed to get together and revise what we were doing at half-time. There’s no thinking that we’ll let a team get ahead and that we try to get back in the second half.
“There are teams that you can’t let get away from you, as Monaghan showed in the 2013 Ulster final. Against some teams it’s dangerous to let them get a run on you like that. It’s something we need to work on as a team.
And captain Murphy insists it is something they cannot allow happen against Dublin on Saturday night.
“The thing about playing in Division One, against the likes of Dublin, is that they can do it in the blink of an eye because they have the firepower.”
Donegal have turned the Dubs over in the second half when they last locked horns on the hallowed sod of GAA headquarters. That was in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final as Jim McGuinness and Donegal stunned the Hill and the rest of the country with a 3-14 to 0-17 win over the then reigning All-Ireland champions.
THAT WAS LAST YEAR
“That’s gone. Of course it was a great day for Donegal. But it’s gone, it was last year. It’s the same with the All-Ireland, it’s gone now too. It has to be gone.
“We have it well and truly put to bed now. Yes, it takes a while to get over it and it takes a while to adjust to things, but you have to get on with it.
“There’s no point going back to the past. I’m a great believer in staying in the present. Every day you go out, you have to prove yourself as a team and as an individual. Dublin will say the same, I’m sure.”
For Donegal and Dublin this weekend’s game is about the league points that are on offer.
“Every day you go out, there’s a different proposition and the good thing about the League is that the games are coming thick and fast with different challenges in them.”
Bernard Brogan’s recent comments that Donegal had caught Dublin on the hop in last August’s All-Ireland semi-final does not bother the Donegal skipper.
And the captain will not be making any great big deal about it in his chats to the rest of the squad this week. “You don’t really pay much heed to that. Dublin were flying coming into the game. Nobody gave us a chance and, on paper, rightly so. That’s the way it looked from the outside. We had full belief going into the game that we’d do the job.
“That game is gone though. It’s six months ago and there’s been a lot of football played since and a lot of stuff done on the training ground too. It’s completely irrelevant”
“The big thing this week is the performance and going there with the desire to win the game. It’ll be a huge task and we’ll go as underdogs, but so be it. “The objective is to go and win. How to do that is the one. We’ll have to thwart Dublin’s dangers as best we can and they come in many forms.
“At the same time, we’ll want to take the game to the opposition. We’d be encouraged by the way that has developed and especially with the way Patrick (McBrearty) stood up against Derry.
“He kicked some great scores and that was really encouraging. Odhrán (MacNiallais) too, took his goal with great composure and they’re two players who we’ll be looking to push on. It’s about the rest of us getting up to the level and supporting them.
“The number one aim is to stay in Division One. It has to be. The way we’ve been kind of yo-yoing, we’d like to consolidate ourselves in Division One.
“We’ve a number of players coming through and it would be great for them to play consistently in Division One.
“The big one is Tyrone and that won’t be long coming around the corner. It’s there in the back of the head as we’re preparing.”
The general view among the chattering and also knowledgeable classes is that Michael Murphy can be most effective for Donegal on the edge of the opposition goal area, at full-forward.
What does the captain himself think?
“There would have been a time where I’d have said I wouldn’t have suited playing out the field.
“There might have been a fear there about not being able to do a job. Gradually getting into the position, I’ve got used to it and started to enjoy it.
“As regards a preference, I don’t have one. Two or three years ago I’d have said I would have preferred being in, but now I don’t mind. I enjoy the two roles. Being out the field, creating things, touching the ball a bit more and influencing things. But I like being inside too, the danger thing of scoring scores and making scores.
“I want to develop both sides of it. The more I do that, the more I’ll be a benefit to the team.”