Posts Tagged ‘Michael Murphy’

A Little Hope

Just as I didn’t read too much into the win over Armagh, I’m trying not to get too excited about the 10 point win over Galway in Croke Park last Saturday.  For one thing, the margin of victory flatters us – from around the 15th to the 50th minute, it was tight enough going.  Donegal have yet to put together a quality 70 minutes this year.  To be fair, Rory Gallagher acknowledges this issue.  It’s something we have seen in every game.  I don’t know what the reason is for it.  I wonder if it is because opposition take time to get their defensive system set up – we started to struggle when Galway got everyone behind the ball.  It was a similar story against Tyrone, Derry and Monaghan – we are ‘on fire’ for around 10 or 15 minutes and then we seem to fall apart.  Our missed chances (14 wides and two dropped short) were also the continuation of a worrying trend, even if our overall return of 48% is an improvement.  It seemed too easy for Galway to run through us at times, with Ciaran Whelan showing examples on the Sunday Game.  It was in many ways a typical 2015 performance.

But, there was much that was good about Saturday.  And no harm that we celebrate the positives especially after my negative outlook on things following the Ulster Final.  Man of the match Odhran MacNiallais was brilliant, with three excellent points and a wonderful pass to Colm McFadden for the first goal the highlights.  There’s no doubt that he has the talent, it’s the consistency that is lacking at the moment.  Ryan McHugh was his dynamic best, covering every blade of the Croke Park turf and finishing a brilliant move for his goal.  When we analyse Colm McFadden’s performance, it’s easy to pick holes, but look at all the good things he did also.  Too many folks from Donegal, including me, have written off the St Michael’s man since 2012, but it was great to see him in good form last weekend.  His unselfishness in laying on two goals when he might have taken the chances on himself is perhaps the most impressive thing when you think that he has made his bones as a scoring forward.  And of course who from Donegal doesn’t love Christy Toye?  The third goal was the icing on the cake with McFadden setting up his club mate.  These two lads might not have many more days out in Croke Park so that one will stay long in the memory.

The form of our subs looked good.  Martin McElhinney largely atoned for a poor Ulster Final display when introduced, although his shooting was again poor.  It’s good to see him willing to shoot, but he needs to be more judicious in when he decides to shoot.  But what was more interesting was the form of Leo McLoone, Declan Walsh and Anthony Thompson.  All three looked good, especially McLoone and Thompson.  Leo especially seemed ready to contribute more, and but for some desperate defending, would have had a goal of his own.  It was good to see us finishing a game strongly after hanging on against Tyrone and Derry, sitting on a big lead in Armagh and then panicking in Clones.  I kind of like the idea of finishing with your best team on the pitch, assuming of course you can stay in the game with squad players starting.  It’s worth pointing out though that Thompson, Dec Walsh and McLoone have missed a lot of training time this year and two of them weren’t even in the panel at the start of the Championship.  Their sharpness for intercounty football at this level, while looking good against Galway, has to be questionable.

I think it’s only fair to point out that we enjoyed some good fortune on Saturday.  Paul Conroy missed a very kickable free and was then denied what would have been an easier opportunity when he was surely fouled by Neil McGee.  Adrian Varley might have passed up a goal chance, but in truth, it would have been some finish to chip Paul Durcan.  The only excuse was that it was a line ball that had been awarded to Donegal but overturned by the ref, so maybe we weren’t fully switched on, but we can’t afford these sort of lapses in the future, starting this weekend.  Cillian O’Connor will not miss such opportunities (Kevin McLaughlin might…).

So let’s talk about Michael.  Last Saturday, we got glimpses of the old Michael Murphy, the one I think most of us want to see.  Think back to these moments, courtesy of Donegal Sport Hub – where was he playing when most of these were filmed?  When Michael plays deep, what does he offer? He’s big and physical, so his presence alone is an asset around midfield and even under our own crossbar. He’s can also be a good kick passer, but who does he end up passing to if he’s not inside? It could be said that his tackling is a liability and the lads on The Sunday Game went out of the way to highlight it last week.  I was always of the view that as long as Donegal were doing enough to win, it didn’t matter where Michael played.  But as I mentioned in my last piece, Donegal’s scoring return has been declining since 2012, a stat that correlates with his move away from the edge of the square.  It’s time to let him do what he does best again.

At midfield, Michael is merely good.  Most of the kudos has he has got for his performances this year has been for his long range dead ball striking.  And that’s fine, that is often worth the ticket price.  But at full forward, he is great.  If we see Michael drifting out to midfield on Saturday, it will give a huge lift to Mayo, no more than they will feel like it’s not going to plan if Aidan O’Shea isn’t placed at 14.  By all means, if we need him to drop back when we are trying to hold a lead, that’s fine.  But when there is plenty of football to be played, please keep him around the edge of the square.

For me at least, Donegal have to everything possible to ensure that Michael can play and succeed at the position he was born to play – full forward.  Sure, there will be times when it feels like it’s not working, but we have to persist with it – it will always pay off eventually in my view.  Whether that’s as a result of Michael doing something himself (scoring, assisting or winning a free) or freeing up space for others to prosper.  Surely another player in the squad can be used as a third midfielder to cover for Michael – whether that’s the experienced Christy Toye or the frustrating Hugh McFadden, then we need to take that chance.  The risk is low, but the payoff is great.

And so, for third time in five years, we meet Mayo in the Championship.  I don’t think anyone needs reminding of the outcome in either of the previous two encounters, although I’m sure many of us have tried to forget 2013.  The players haven’t, which is probably a good thing.  No harm having a chip in your shoulder when facing into a challenge.  April’s league game was a testy encounter and there’s no love lost between the teams, in much the same way as there will be an edge when any of the nominal ‘Top 4’ teams meet.  As with any League match, I wouldn’t read too much into it, especially when Donegal were missing Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy and Mayo lined out without Cillian O’Connor.  Donegal were lucky to get away with a draw, but Mayo were fortunate not to concede a second goal to Paddy McBrearty when he was penalised for a foul that nobody but David Coldrick saw.  Maybe there’s something in that for us as Mayo still have not addressed the issues that have cost them dearly over the past few years – their full back line, or maybe their entire defensive set up is not good enough.  Jim McGuinness sees it, but the Mayo management team don’t seem to want to know.  It’s probably not worth mentioning, but conceding two goals to Sligo should be a cause for concern, if it weren’t for the fact that Mayo were in a position where it didn’t really matter.

Saturday will be a big step up from Galway and a very different test from that which we faced against Monaghan.  Mayo are a fast, physical , driven and experienced team.  While there are questions about them defensively overall, their half back line is as good as any out there.  They appear to have a solid enough midfield pairing in Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons to allow them to utilise Aidan O’Shea as an offensive wrecking ball.   We got a taste of this in Castlebar earlier this year, but handled it better than Galway or Sligo have in this year’s Championship.  Maybe it will suit us to have O’Shea on the edge of the square where it might be easier to bottle him up and frees can be harder won.  Cillian O’Connor is not Conor McManus or James O’Donoghue, but he’s an outstanding free taker and not bad from play – he could be the one to profit if we are forced into paying Aidan O’Shea too much attention.  His brother Diarmuid is a significant addition to the half forward line.

Aside from our worrying scoring lapses in games, my biggest concern ahead of Saturday is that Eamonn McGee, Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy (despite what Rory Gallagher says), Paddy McBrearty and maybe even Frank McGlynn and Martin McElhinney are not 100%. Mayo will be well rested and aren’t really carrying any injuries we know of. It could well end up like it did in 2013.  But I obviously hope it doesn’t.  I hope that we manage to put in a 70 minute performance.  I hope that Michael Murphy plays where he’s most effective and we manage to better utilise his very obvious talents.  I hope that Colm McFadden and Odhran MacNiallais can build on their performances against Galway.  I hope that we have something left in the tank after playing five games to Mayo’s two in the same period.

But even a little hope is a very dangerous thing.

Until Victory, Always.

Still Got It

Many of the questions we have been asking ourselves lately were answered on Sunday in Derry.  It was not the perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good enough.  While we weren’t exactly written off in advance, there were plenty who felt that we were a spent force in light of last year’s Championship performance and then a fairly flat performance in the Division Two Final last month.  The intensity and the verve returned on Sunday, and while it wasn’t always pretty, especially in the first half, it’s always satisfying to win when you are not certain of doing so.   

In many ways, it was very similar to our way of operating in 2012.  We kept things close until half time, and then blitzed Derry in the third quarter before reverting to lockdown mode.  And, like 2012, it was Donegal who got the last score after soaking up the Derry pressure.  Leo McLoone’s score was somewhat reminiscent of Karl Lacey’s point against Kerry in the All Ireland Quarter Final.  The main difference of course was the build up – Lacey’s score came on a fast break, McLoone’s was the culmination of an 18 pass phase of clock killing possession (H/T to @dontfoul).  Either way, in both cases it was Donegal finishing strong.

After what was a fairly unimpressive League campaign, where he played almost exclusively at centre half back, Leo McLoone was somewhat of a revelation on Sunday.  Finishing with 1-01 and earning RTE man of the match honours will hopefully be a boost for him personally.  Whether his inspired showing owed anything to the fact he was nominally a half forward instead of deployed in a defensive capacity is an open question.  The fact that McLoone could be played in a more advanced role was as of course linked to the fact that we had Paddy McGrath available to start in defence.  It was great to have the Ardara man back and in fine form.  Pretty remarkable that he was able to last 70 minutes having missed so much time.  With Paddy back, I assume we won’t see McLoone at half back for the remainder of the Championship barring any injuries.

As Alan Foley points out, the tactics we saw at midfield on Sunday are a throwback to McGuinness’ time in charge of the Under 21 team back in 2010.   Big Neil missing out from the start was no huge surprise even if the rumours suggested he was fit enough to start.  But when I heard that McElhinney was not starting, I was very surprised.  A combination of Christy, Odhran MacNiallais and Michael Murphy was initially deployed, and seemed to do ok, although we cannot discount the impact of Derry losing Fergal Doherty relatively early on had on their performance (still, his replacement Niall Holly kicked a fine score not long after coming on).  But, as the half wore on, Derry seemed to get on top when Durcan kicked the ball out to midfield.  What was pleasing was some of the results from quicker and more targeted kick outs – nowhere near the level of what Dublin can accomplish, but encouraging nonetheless.  Some people I have spoken too criticised the decision to bring on Big Neil as he didn’t look fit.  True, he was responsible for a few turnovers, but he certainly gave the crowd a further lift after the blitz and made a good block in defence.  A few of us were also surprised that Christy was the man to go at half time, but all in all, McGuinness got it just right in the middle third. The stats indicate that we weren’t brilliant, but we did enough to win, and that ultimately is all you need to do!

The most pleasing aspect of the display on Sunday was of course our defence.  Not just for, you know, defending, but for those sorties into Derry territory.  It was Frank McGlynn who collected the ball from Michael Murphy and fed Leo McLoone for the decisive goal and Anthony Thompson collected a rebound off the upright on the Derry end line to set up Paddy McBrearty for what should have been a goal.  Throw in the points from Lacey and Thompson and you begin to ask yourself is it 2012 all over again.  Not to ignore the fact also that we only conceded 11 points in total, which will be good enough to win most games.  As I originally speculated, it was left to Karl Lacey to pick up Mark Lynch and he did a fine job. Lynch kicked one huge score, under immense pressure, but otherwise his influence was marginal.  The inside forwards McGuckin and O’Boyle were non-factors, due in large part to Derry’s inability to find them.  Nonetheless, the two McGees did all that was asked off them in our set up.  Above the call of duty, Neil McGee was on hand to rob Derry wing back Kevin Johnston of a potential goal opportunity in the second half when a goal would have brought Derry level and potentially stalled Donegal’s shock and awe operation.  Good and all as our defensive players and overall system was, Niall Holly and Mark Lynch did show that no matter how good you are, you are always susceptible to being undone by good long range shooting.  Thankfully, we did enough to restrict Derry’s opportunities in this regard.

There are definite areas for improvement.  Colm McFadden had a day to forget.  You can’t fault the effort, but nothing was sticking.  Dermot McBride, like Drew Wylie in last year’s Ulster Final, stuck to him like a bad smell and got away with plenty of holding, but that’s life for a forward sometimes.  On another day, maybe Colm gets a handy free and converts it and that sets things in motion.  Not so on Sunday – he didn’t even have a free to kick.  Was Sunday an aberration?  Hopefully, but you have to figure that we could be witnessing a player on the wane.  It’s a worrying enough sign that he has been held scoreless from play in his last two Ulster Championship games.  He did manage 3-30 during the League, so maybe I am worrying unnecessarily.  Plus, whoever we play next (Fermanagh or Antrim) will surely afford him the opportunity to get back on track.  He was so poor on Sunday that Jim McGuinness actually replaced him – something that never happens. 

If Colm was poor, then you would hope Paddy McBrearty is capable of stepping up.  Alas, he had a poor enough day himself – especially in the first half (four shots, one off the post, one wide, two dropped short).  He did get himself a point in the second half, but even then, he really should have had a goal.  You couldn’t really fault his effort, but when presented with these opportunities (especially when playing inside during the first half while Michael Murphy was deployed in a deeper role), he needs to do better.  His light hearted tweet afterwards about losing his shooting boots was fair enough given we won the game suppose and at least he acknowledges the issue.  The fact that he has exams going on at the moment might be a mitigating factor.  Again, the next day out he will have the opportunity to put up a greater return.

But of course it should be pointed out that we win despite getting virtually nothing from Colm and Paddy, and indeed only two points from play from Michael Murphy.  It’s good to know that there are others who can step up – 1-06 scored from play various others is a very satisfying return.  As ever, while it might be a disturbing trend if your inside forwards fail to deliver on an ongoing basis, but in an isolated game, it doesn’t matter who gets the scores as long as we get enough of them.

A quick word for our Captain – wow.  He was everywhere and everything on Sunday.  He shook off an early missed free that he really should have scored, but thereafter, he was inspirational.  He was involved in four successive scores – his fetch in the lead up to the goal, the dummy for his point from play, that free from the sideline and a free won and converted to put us five points ahead and essentially put us out of sight.  It didn’t escape anyone of course that Jim McGuinness ‘told him’ to attempt that shot from the sideline.   Sometimes talent needs a nudge.   

And when you think about the players that played on Sunday, you feel that you can expect more in future games.  Paddy McGrath – first game for Donegal since 60 minutes in last year’s All Ireland Quarter Final.  Jigger – first Senior Championship start ever for Donegal.  Neil Gallagher – we only saw him for 30 or so minutes.  Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney – only played a half each.  And of course Rory Kavanagh played no part.  We can expect more from all of these players next day out.

There have been murmurings along the lines of ‘that performance wouldn’t beat Dublin’ – but so what?  We weren’t playing Dublin on Sunday.  Dublin don’t play in the Ulster Championship.  I’m sure Jim McGuinness had one goal only on Sunday and that was to win the game.  From that perspective, it was a very good day at the office.  We now have four weeks to prepare for a game against Antrim or Fermanagh, a game we should win.  I’m certainly not thinking about anything more than an Ulster Final appearance at this stage.  Sunday’s performance left me in no doubt that we are still good enough to win an Ulster Championship if we make it that far.  Job done.

Until Victory, Always.

Under Pressure

You only have to look at the photo of Jim McGuinness taken at the final whistle on Sunday to see what this win means to him. And to the rest of us in Donegal. This win was as big a statement as Kildare in 2011 or Cork in 2012. We’re Ulster and All Ireland Champions and we’re not going to surrender either title without one hell of a fight.

Donegal played with the confidence of champions on Sunday. Despite being second best for much of the first half, a timely goal, brilliantly taken by Colm McFadden, meant that we actually led by two points at half time. Despite that, Donegal were the ones who were kept back in the dressing room at half time. I can only imagine at what might have been said to them by Jim McGuinness. Tyrone scored all of three points in the second half. The delay was worth it.

The fact that the Donegal goals came when Tyrone had their first lead and when they had tied up the game again was no accident. There was no opportunism involved; they were both very deliberate acts. Both started with quickly taken free kicks and both involved Paddy McBrearty. Think back to the All Ireland Final – Donegal have now scored four goals in their last two Championship games. Three of those four have come from what appear to be planned moves (Colm McFadden’s goal in the Final was pure opportunism). Jim McGuinness said afterwards that goals mean a lot in Championship football. They made the difference on Sunday and on 23 September last year.

In their last meeting, Donegal scored 12 points and Tyrone scored 10 points. This year, Donegal scored 2-10 and Tyrone scored….10 points. In fact, Tyrone have scored nine points, 10 points and 10 points in their last three Championship meetings with Donegal. Donegal were 33% better this year than in 2012 on the scoreboard. Tyrone may have looked good during the League, but they were running to stand still. Donegal are the ones who have kicked on in 2013. I said before the game that Tyrone were the team under pressure before this game, and so it was – Donegal won all the physical and psychological battles, and finished the game as the team on top, winning both halves.

We started without two All Stars, Karl Lacey and Mark McHugh. A third All Star, Frank McGlynn, didn’t look fit to start with and didn’t last long. Neil Gallagher and Anthony Thompson were not 100% either. Anyway, the point is that while Tyrone were able to field their first choice fifteen, Donegal weren’t really playing with a full deck. All this makes the victory even more impressive. When Karl Lacey especially returns to fitness, this team is capable of greater performances – even with the injuries, we weren’t perfect on Sunday, but showed we have the hunger that people. An awesome prospect and one which I don’t think any team will relish facing. If Tyrone were under pressure last Sunday, how will other opposition feel facing the All Ireland Champions?

Impressive too was the player who has promised much but not always delivered for Donegal. Paddy McBrearty came of age last Sunday. He scored 0-2, assisted for both goals, and bagged the man of the match award. Three years after he made his Senior début against Antrim on the same ground, Paddy showed me what I have been waiting to see for the past two years. I said that I wouldn’t believe he had it in him until I saw him to do it, so shame on me for not believing. Ross Wherrity too was impressive when coming on for Leo McLoone. I had my doubts about whether he was ready for the intensity or Championship football and I was disappointed he wasn’t chipping in with scores in the League. He proved me wrong on the intensity front and of course got on the end of Paddy McBreaty’s great run. More of the same please Paddy and Ross.

People will point to the fact that Tyrone had plenty of possession and shots at goal. True of course, but not necessarily a cause for concern. Sure, Niall Morgan had a less than stellar day, shooting 1 from 6 from dead balls, but not all of these chances were ‘gimmes’. The free that Stephen O’Neill missed was from a relatively acute angle (even though he was successful in making life a bit easier for himself as is usually the way with frees taken from the hands). Donegal don’t give away chip shots in front of goal. Fouls are given away in strategically significant areas. Nothing new there really, Morgan’s lack of success on Sunday is getting undue attention due in part to (a) his performance against Dublin in the League Final; and (b) the fact that he was dumb enough to react to the crowd. Donegal have faced free takers as accomplished as Morgan in the past (think of Cillian O’Connor in the All-Ireland Final) – they have yet to be undone by long range frees in Championship (under Jim McGuinness) at least.

We can only hope that Anthony Thompson is not seriously injured – what an important player he has become. Frank too – he seems to have been struggling with injury for a while. I am all for resting him for as long as possible. We can play Eamonn McGee at corner back and Declan Walsh can fill in at wing back. Not bad. If anything, I’d like to see Ryan McHugh get some time against Derry/Down – just to introduce him to the pitch of Championship football lest we need him later on in the year.

Many Donegal supporters, and nearly all neutrals, would love to see Micheal Murphy play at full forward. I would too, but he may actually have more of an impact when he plays further out the field. It was his long free that found Paddy McBrearty who flicked the ball on to McFadden for the first goal. It was also him who was there to make several important interventions in defence late in the game. Would you rather if he was loitering around the opposition goals with no ball coming his way? That is likely to be the alternative in a lot of games. But he’s still available to move into the edge of the square to great effect, just like he was last September. Let’s trust that Jim and Rory know best how and when to deploy him.

Anyone who knows me and has talked to me lately knows that I am confident that we will win the Ulster Championship again this year (or rather I believed whoever won on Sunday would win Ulster). Some might call it arrogance; others have referred to it as ‘disrespectful’ to potential opponents. I am taking nothing for granted, but I prefer to think of it as realism. We’ve beaten the only other team anyone was talking about as potential Ulster Champions. It would be a huge shock and a massive disappointment if we don’t win a historic provincial three in a row.

You won’t hear any of that kind of talk coming from Jim McGuinness. The focus will be on Derry or Down. In all the interviews since, there have been so many great quotes. The one that stood out was a reference to ‘next year’. That has lifted the spirits even more. We’re lucky to have him in Donegal. The fact that he’s one of our own makes it even better.

Until Victory, Always.

Ready for the Red Hand

Which is harder? Winning a first All Ireland in 20 years, or retaining the All Ireland for the first time ever? I guess we will soon find out. No matter what happens in 2013, we will always have a magical summer from 2012 to remember. Let’s savour that for a minute before looking ahead.

I’d really like Donegal to win this game well. Paul Durcan’s incredible save is pretty much everyone’s recollection of last season’s encounter, whereas my own view is that Donegal were more on top than the final score line and last few minutes of the game suggested. But, does the score line and performance really matter? The result is surely all that matters, right? Right. Compared to Antrim and Cavan, Tyrone represent the sternest challenge Donegal will have faced in the opening round under Jim McGuinness. Getting back into winning habits after a lacklustre League campaign is the most important thing – the sparkling performances can come later.

Many pundits maintain that Donegal were ‘lucky’ in 2012. Well, we are already lucky again in 2013. When Donegal were last All Ireland Champions in 1993, we made it as far as the Ulster Final before losing out to Derry (who of course went on to be All-Ireland Champions) on a wet day in Clones. This year, we face one of our biggest challenges in our first game – no point in trying to be coy, if we can beat Tyrone, we should go on to win the Ulster Championship. But even if we lose on Sunday, this team gets a second chance – something that Molloy, McHugh and Boyle were denied back in 1993. Nobody is thinking about the Qualifier route, but after watching Armagh and Galway last weekend, I think it’s reasonable to assume that Donegal will still be involved in the Championship come August. So even if we lose to Tyrone on Sunday, It’s not the end of the world (I can’t promise I won’t sound like it is if we do lose).

I had a blog drafted in the wake of the drawn game with Dublin that led to Donegal’s relegation to Division Two. I never got round to finishing it, and it’s probably just as well. But for a kick of a ball, or perhaps another team getting a result, Donegal would have retained their Division One status, and would have been no better or worse off versus their position in the 2012 National Football League. Recall as well that in 2011, when we played in Division Two, we made it to an All Ireland Semi-Final and could well have gone further. Jim McGuinness has been consistent in his message and his methods throughout the spring – the focus is always on the Championship. The same is true of any team that views themselves as a contender I guess, but the truth of it is that Donegal’s game plan requires a level of fitness that no team came close to matching in 2011. There are no half measures with Jim’s approach – it appears to be all or nothing. We saw literally nothing during the League. It has all been saved for the Championship.

I guess one thing I would have liked to see in the League (aside from staying in Division One…) would have been the emergence of one or two players who could challenge our starters, or at least fit in seamlessly should a key player go down with injury. Both Ryan McHugh and Ross Wherrity saw significant game time, but does anyone feel confident that either would be worthy of their place in a Championship XV? Ryan maybe, but Ross still looks like he needs further development. To be fair, Declan Walsh played in two Championship games in 2011 and played quite well during the League, and indeed talk on the podcast is that he has been playing very well for Malin in the All County League, so if Karl Lacey is not ready to go on Sunday, we should feel confident that Declan Walsh can do a job in the half back line. But the bench is not as deep as the one which Mickey Harte will have at his disposal. If David Walsh is available, we’re in better shape.

So how will Tyrone win this game? If you recall the 2011 like I do, you felt that Tyrone lost the game that day due to their poor accuracy from the dead ball (as well as two timely goals from Donegal). Last year they didn’t fare much better. While Donegal scored six out of seven (with the only miss coming from a sideline), Tyrone only managed three from eight. Unless Morgan gets a case of the yips (this did happen on more than one occasion this year), expect that Tyrone will kick any relatively straightforward frees and indeed any 45s. Donegal will need to be extremely disciplined, and not just in fouling, but in dissent etc as well – recall from the National League game in Omagh how Joe McQuillan moved a free forward after Neil McGee prevented a quick free being taken allowing Morgan to slot over. Add in the return of Sean Cavanagh, and Tyrone have, in theory, improved enough on paper to close the gap from the end of the 2012 meeting.

So Tyrone have improved. Donegal have not yet shown that they have improved. Indeed, despite Jim McGuinness’ assertion that this team could improve by 15-20%, I’m not sure how much more we can expect to see this year. Even getting back to the level we were operating at last year would be a wonderful achievement in itself. With the injuries to Karl Lacey and nagging concerns over Mark McHugh and Frank McGlynn, this could be a tall order for Sunday. But, if you recall, Michael Murphy started off last year’s Championship short of fitness, and truth be told, it didn’t seem like he was himself until the All-Ireland Final. His displays in the Sigerson Cup hinted at a great season ahead, but his form in the League was more subdued. The truth of it is, Tyrone have no-one who can dominate like Michael can dominate. If he was being deliberately held back during the League, an unstoppable force could be unleashed at MacCumhaill Park on Sunday. And there’s your 20%.

Karl Lacey’s lack of game time might be a concern. But it would appear that his rehabilitation programme was tailored to making it back to fitness for this game. There was never any talk that he would make a cameo in the League. If Karl can give us 60-70 good minutes on Sunday, surely we can rest him for an Ulster Semi-Final if we win – whoever we meet would not present the same challenge as Tyrone. I think when you have the best player in the Country available; you will want to have him play in what could be a defining moment in your season. My instinct (and that’s all it is) is that Karl will play on Sunday.

So, the starting 15 on Sunday should be the same as that which took the field on 23 September last year. With eight All-Stars, and a few more who can reasonably feel that they were unlucky to lose out, so let’s not worry too much that we haven’t got the ‘fresh faces’ many seem to feel are necessary for renewed success in 2013. Trust in the players that got us to the Promised Land last year. Trust in the man who directed their journey. Forget everything that we saw or didn’t see from Donegal during the League. Believe that this group of players and their manager will be every bit as good this year as they were last year.

Jim McGuinness has ‘Bitegate’, the County Board’s reneging on an agreement regarding fixtures, some of the posturing by the Tyrone players during the National League game in Omagh, and the general consensus in the National media that Donegal can’t repeat their success of last year ‘just because’ to use as motivation for his team. Not to mention Donegal now have the chance to win an unprecedented third Ulster Championship in a row. Whether he actually needs of any of this as motivation is another matter – Jim’s mantra of self-improvement might be enough for this group of players.

I think that this will be a tight game and probably a low scoring affair. A scoreline of something like 0-14 to 0-12 feels about right. A draw wouldn’t be a surprise. While I don’t necessarily think that defeat will do our All-Ireland prospects much harm, I shudder at the thought nonetheless. The backlash after Donegal’s attitude towards the National League and the whole notion of ‘Jimmy’s Spinning Matches’ will be fierce – I’m not sure I’m ready for that just yet.

But given that we have the best manager and the best player in the Country, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t feel confident. The pressure is on Tyrone, who are facing into a third successive Championship defeat to Donegal. They are the ones who need to up their game to our level. Tyrone seemed to take such satisfaction from their win in Omagh, with much posturing after scores. Tyrone have been hearing about how Donegal have been focused on the 26 May all year.

It’s that focus and the fact that I believe this team still has more to give that makes me believe we will overcome Tyrone on Sunday.

Until Victory, Always