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'He's just a real leader. He brings so much to the group in terms of that leadership quality'

Declan Bonner hailed the influence of Murphy after yesterday’s Division 2 final win over Meath.

Michael Murphy and Hugh McFadden lift the Division 2 trophy.
Michael Murphy and Hugh McFadden lift the Division 2 trophy.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park

IN THE END, two veterans from the 2012 All-Ireland win were pivotal in helping Donegal win their first title at Croke Park since that famous triumph seven years ago.

Meath’s early policy of kicking early and often into Michael Newman caused initial problems for Donegal yesterday, who found themselves 1-6 to 0-1 behind after 14 minutes.

At that stage, Declan Bonner sent for enforcer Neil McGee as Brendan Cole’s replacement at full-back, and he helped quell Newman’s influence for the remainder of the game.

Up front, Michael Murphy dazzled for Donegal. He finished with 0-7, assisted Jamie Brennan’s 57th-minute goal and was a calming presence for the Ulster champions every time he touched the ball.

“We had to steady the ship,” said Bonner of McGee’s introduction.

“Unfortunately for young Brendan, he’s had a very, very good league campaign. Any number of changes could have been made in the early stages and Brendan will come back a better and stronger player.

“Neil came in and steadied the ship today and added that experience in there and that was important to us. 

“It wasn’t easy coming in there to be honest as we were under the cosh. The one thing Neil has is experience and he’s been training really well over the last number of weeks. It was great to see.

“He played 60-odd minutes out there which was very important for us to get him on the pitch. it’s just that experience he lends on the field, himself and Paddy McGrath, which was important for us.

“We want to play an expansive game but we also need to get cover and we weren’t getting it. Once we got it sorted out we started to get control of the game and in the second-half I felt we just bossed the game. I felt some of our score-taking was top class.”

Donegal with the trophy after the game Donegal with the trophy after the game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Murphy spent most of his time at full-forward and was a major threat, particularly in the second-half. His ball-winning ability remains one of his finest qualities and the only pity for Donegal is that the advanced mark won’t apply in this year’s championship.

Murphy claimed two long deliveries inside for marks and duly popped them over, while his free-taking was typically accurate with five scores from five attempts. 

“He’s just a real leader. He brings so much to the group in terms of that leadership quality, the experience and just the quality. I thought his second-half performance was outstanding.” 

He was aided by the presence of two speed-merchants either side of him in the form of Oisin Gallen and Jamie Brennan. The trio combined for 1-13 of Donegal’s 1-17 total in this Division 2 final.

Brennan raised a green flag for his third game in succession and Gallen announced himself on the big stage with a magnificent four-point haul. At 18 on his first senior appearance at Croke Park, Gallen’s display was particularly pleasing for his manager. 

“He’s playing with huge confidence,” said Bonner.

“That’s on the back of four last week against Kildare. Playing superb football, he’s still very, very young.

“Still has a lot of learning to do but he’s playing up front along with the likes of Michael and that’s been great for him to be quite honest. Michael’s influence all over the team has been very important.

“I think he might have kicked two wides early on but Oisin’s a brave footballer, he’s a smart footballer. As I say, he’s very young, he’s only 18 years of age but his feet are firmly on the ground and he works hard for the team. He’s been really good for us throughout the league.

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“It was a really good goal and it was a huge score for us. It was a brilliant move and finished superbly by Jamie Brennan. That’s Jamie’s third goal on the trot now.  Michael’s influence is so important.”

Odhran McFadden Ferry, Neil McGee and Daire O'Baoill with the trophy after the game Odhran McFadden Ferry, Neil McGee and Daire O'Baoill with the trophy. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Donegal’s increased options in the middle third means they can employ Murphy closer to goal without sacrificing possession further out the field.

“We do have more options with the likes of Michael Langan, Jason McGee, Caolan McGonagle, Hugh McFadden, Ciaran Thompson.

“So we have that and those are all big lads that can play either middle of the field or in those half-forward roles. The more we can play Michael in closer to goal then the more dangerous Michael is.”

Meath boss Andy McEntee was a little miffed at how Murphy managed to stay on the field while the Royals lost Shane Gallagher to a red card late in the match.

Murphy was booked in the 16th minute for a high challenge and later received a ticking by the referee after a hefty tackle on Cillian O’Sullivan.

Tempers flare between both sides Tempers flare between both sides. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He was warned again on at least one other occasion later in the second-half but McEntee felt he was treated leniently by Derek O’Mahoney.

“He was a huge factor,” said McEntee.

“I don’t know what he walked away with score-wise, but he’s a target man. He’s very influential in a lot of areas. He’s very influential. He’s very influential all around the field.

“We get a guy who gets two yellow cards (sic, a yellow and black), and I think the bould Michael gets booked and gets ticked on maybe three or four occasions? Is that possible? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m exaggerating but I doubt it.”

He conceded Donegal made good use of the offensive mark through Murphy.

“It’s probably the first game it really hurt us in, but then again we haven’t come up against Murphy to date. When you have a big target man like that and you’re putting decent ball in, and they put some decent quality ball in, it’s very hard to deal with.”

McEntee said “there’s no doubt” Meath head for the championship in a far better place than they did 12 months ago, when they just about avoided relegation to the third tier.

“I think that’s a fair understatement,” he laughed.

“There’s initial disappointment with not winning the game there today, but we can take an awful lot from our performances throughout the league, and even from the performance there today.

“It wasn’t a no-show. Ultimately in the end I think we weren’t good enough.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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