Barry Dunnion believes it would be foolish to write off Donegal following their disappointing Ulster final defeat to Tyrone last Sunday week.
The former county star admits Donegal’s chances of All Ireland success would have been so much better had they clinched an Ulster title. However, he feels the team can get back on track with a win against Cork on Saturday.
“You just never know after that,” he said.
“If they can beat Cork, that will give them a confidence boost. The word is that big Neil (Gallagher) is close to a return and if that happens, it might allow them to push Michael Murphy inside.
“There’s no doubt about it, it would have been fantastic to beat Tyrone and go to Croke Park as Ulster champions. It gives you a real pep in your step and you’d have been straight into the quarter-final. But it wasn’t to be and they’ve now got to bounce back against Cork.”
Ten years ago, Dunnion was part of the Donegal side that was beaten by the Munster men in an All Ireland quarter-final. In some ways, Donegal’s run that year was quite similar to the efforts of the 2016 side.
Donegal, managed by Brian McIver, went all the way to an Ulster final, only to lose against Armagh by a point. That meant they were into the qualifiers where they got the better of Fermanagh in Brewster Park by three points, 0-11 to 0-8.
The victory set up a quarter-final meeting with a Cork side who had beaten Kerry in the Munster final by six points. The last eight meeting proved another close affair with Cork prevailing by just a single point.
“There wasn’t much in it that day. Ger Spillane got a late point to win it for Cork,” Dunnion recalled.
“We’d a good team that year. It was Brian McIver’s first year in charge and in fairness to him, he changed the mindset of the players in terms of their approach to the game. That was probably the first step towards setting Donegal in the direction to where they are now.”
Dunnion, at 23, was a mainstay in the Donegal defence that season. The following year, he’d win a National League medal but while he would go on to play for the county for a number of seasons, a string of injury problems finally took their toll.
He’s now enjoying his club football with Four Masters but the injuries refuse to go away.
“I hurt my knee in training last Thursday and I’m waiting on an MRI scan to see what the problem is,” he said.
Last Sunday week, along with his wife Nicola, and their daughters Lacey (2) and Halle (8 months), Barry was in Clones to watch Donegal’s narrow defeat to Tyrone. He admits to finding it hard to watch a big game when in an ideal world, he would have been running out with the team instead of sitting above in the stand.
“You don’t really miss the hard work and the commitment that you have to give when you are a county player,” he said.
“The effort the players put in is unreal, the time away from home and the training.
“But on big occasions like an Ulster final, you definitely still wish you were involved.”
Dunnion, and so many others like him, left St. Tiernach’s Park last Sunday week feeling that Donegal had let an Ulster title slip from their grasp.
“They left it behind them,” he said. “But it was always going to be a close game and in a match like that, it’s the small margins that count.
“When you think about it, had Michael Murphy’s free gone over instead of just tailing off, it would have been different. Had the ball stuck with Colm (McFadden) at the end; then you had the foul on Frank McGlynn. They were all big moments and big decisions in the game.
“Had we won by a point instead of losing by a point, people would have been saying that Donegal had controlled the game and deserved the victory.
“But that’s the fine line and the small margins that make the difference.”