Donegal captain Michael Murphy says their only focus is to win the All-Ireland title.
“That’s why we’re here, otherwise we’d pack the bags and stay in Donegal town,” says Murphy, as he talks to the media ahead of the beginning of the Super 8s.
But he also issues a health warning in case any Donegal supporter gets carried away.
“We have three Super 8 games to play before you’d even have an All-Ireland semi-final. I’d be foolish to start speaking about an All-Ireland. Yes, you dream about it.
“I won one and lost one.
“There is a hell of a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and an All-Ireland final. We just take one week and one game at a time. There’ll be ups and downs, teams hitting form, and it’s vital that we look at the first game and try to improve our performance.”
The Glenswilly man has been setting records with Donegal year on year and is just as hungry for more success after captaining Donegal for the fifth time to Ulster success.
“It feels every bit as good as the first one. As a supporter of Donegal and an underage player, Ulster was always what you were pitted against. We always struggled. You went to Clones for days or Ballybofey for days when you struggled. To get over the line in 2011 was brilliant. You’d think that maybe the winning feeling or the joyous feeling would fizzle out, but it’s been every bit as nice in the last two years.
“It’s always what you want to do, but do you think it’s going to happen? You just never know. You think one, maybe two, but you don’t think five. Now you’re in the middle of it, you want to go and get more. That’s just the nature of the beast. You just want to push on. You’re happy with Ulster, so what’s next? The Super 8s. To get better than last year, you have to get out of the group. We had plenty of opportunities last year to get out of the group and we failed on that. Our goal is to get out of the group now.”
Now that Donegal are in the last eight once more, he feels that Donegal need to continue to produce top class performances.
“You’re up against the eight best teams in the country. We need to continue to do what we’re doing in terms of our attacking play and the scores we’re putting up. Also, we need to increase that and improve the scores we’re conceding. They’re two very simple formulas that we need to get right.”
As regards the concession of big scores, he agrees it is something they have to look at.
“Of course, it’s a concern. Every time you concede scores it’s a concern. You take it on board and have to try to get it right. We work on that every single night. Teams are going to have patches in games and it’s happened in the last few games that we have conceded towards the end of games. We want to decrease the number of scores we concede in general.”
The captain has seen the good and bad times and agrees that there has been a sea-change in Donegal’s fortunes since 2011.
“We had some dark enough days. You knew as a player with the group we had that it wasn’t normal. We shouldn’t have lost as many games as we did. There has been a cultural shift and a change in that. The younger lads have come up through underage teams that were winning Ulster games. They grew up with that mindset and being a team that can compete at latter stages. When they come into the senior team then, the normality of it is that they expect to compete. It doesn’t always work out like that. We got beat in 2017 in a semi-final and petered out in a qualifier, but everyone got on with it again. The influx of young lads with belief has helped us have another tilt.”
And when he talks about the young lads he is very enthusiastic: “You can pick them out. You’re picking out increasing numbers of them now, which is a massive positive for Donegal. Odhrán McFadden-Ferry got his break for the Ulster final and you have maybe five or six others who could do the same. It is quite difficult the transition for a young player. A lot of them fronted up and kept improving.”
Murphy is not at all surprised with the way the new blood has fitted in: “It didn’t surprise me at all. You always saw the glimpses. It just needed a wee bit of time.
“Inter-county football is an unforgiving game and time doesn’t come into the equation when you’re playing a Championship game. They needed a wee bit of time and patience and, more importantly, hard work. We’re reaping the benefits now. Reaping benefits is grand, but we need to go after it now. We want to be sitting here in four or five weeks time and be out of the Super 8s group.
“The two or three coming in is the gold standard of what you’d want. Everyone kept fronting up and trying. If we keep putting in that two or three and the rest of us keep improving too, then that’s something that the management keep harping onto us - every one of us has something to improve on.
“By God, we have a lot to go after as individuals and as a team from our Ulster final performance to go into the Super 8s. That’s what we’re held accountable for every night we’re in training.”
He feels that having the three week break from the Ulster final is of no big advantage. “The plus of the Super 8s is there are no excuses. The two best teams last year got to play in the All-Ireland final. At the end of the day, the best team won it. Generally, the two best teams will come out of the groups. There are no excuses for anyone. We’ll just keep going after our own individual performances and try to use that to improve collectively.”
Murphy feels that Donegal will have just as much motivation as Meath on Sunday despite the Royals having lost out in the league final.
“We have plenty of motivation ourselves. We got beaten by Tyrone in our last Championship game in Ballybofey last year. That is still fairly raw in the group. It was in front of our own people, in front of our own supporters. That’s something that we’ll be hammering home. It’s there in the back of the memory and the group will know that. We want to put that right, no matter who the opposition is.
“Our training is a very game-based approached. We play games most nights we’re there. You want to perform in that training game. You just throw yourself in to perform. The chance of worrying about an injury isn’t there. There has been a hell of a lot of work done to strengthen the bodies and withstand it. You put the trust in that and throw the body at it. Do you worry about an injury? You generally don’t. You just keep pushing the boundaries as much as you can.
“With three Championship games in four weeks it’s inevitable you’ll pick up a knock. We’d like to think that our squad is stronger than it has been.”
The captain is very happy to have Patrick McBrearty back this year, having missed out on the Super 8s last year.
“You can go around it as much as you can and we still had a chance here when we were leading against Tyrone but, listen, the loss of Patrick, with the form he was in, was massive. He played unbelievable in the League and had had a really strong Championship. It’s a brilliant lift now to have Patrick back. Having him back enjoying his football is a huge boost,” said Murphy.