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Murphy: We owe it to Jim

TWO years is all it takes, apparently.

Two years of resolute dedication and expertise to build a football team from rubble, diamond speckled though the debris might have been.

Two years since Armagh cut Donegal to shreds in Crossmaglen in front of a minimal travelling support, their Ground Zero.

And two years since Michael Murphy almost put his fist through a wall in the tunnel in Breffni Park after his last-minute penalty had smashed off the underside of the Dublin crossbar in that All-Ireland U21 final.

Two years and Murphy is back in an All-Ireland final as captain of Donegal, two Ulster medals in his pocket and both eyes on Sam Maguire. While the wider football community shake their heads bewilderedly at the madness of it all, it is, if Murphy's demeanour is anything to go by, much, much calmer at the eye of the storm.

"I suppose after knowing Jim (McGuinness) in the 2010 under-21 campaign, I knew Jim, his ideas, his philosophies, his commitment, his vision; he is a very impressive man," says Murphy when requested, somewhat reluctantly, to take stock of it all.

"It was a great boost when I heard that he was coming in to take the senior job. Looking back, it is not something that we have really thought about or spoken about how far we have come or how far we have not come. It is a kind of dangerous thing to be doing so close to an All-Ireland final, so I think for us to be looking back at things or to be pinpointing certain areas, it would be wrong to do that.

"If we ever do it we might do it in the month of November and December but I don't think this is the time to be doing it. It is also known that the dedication, the focus, the intellect of Jim and Rory (Gallagher), and the whole backroom team, they provide us with the framework to go out and play to the best of our ability.

Opportunity

"That's what they give us as footballers, they give us every opportunity to compete in arenas like Croke Park so it is important for us not to let them down and not let the whole county down."

It's something of a mantra among this Donegal team. Murphy repeats it and McGuinness mentions it too. It's not enough that collectively, they have turned the team's fortunes drastically on their head, this group must also make amends for the sins of those who have gone before them.

Where once the wild men from the hills were associated with indiscipline and spectacular 'socialising,' now they are a byword for dedication and commitment.

"I suppose it is not too long ago that people were looking at Donegal as, and I don't like quoting this, as 'party animals', so obviously it was something that needed changing," Murphy admits.

"Whatever perception people have of Donegal and Donegal footballers, it is not something that bothers us. The most important thing for us is the 30-man squad we have, the backroom team we have. For us representing Donegal is a massive, massive honour.

"Jim always refers to it before we go out onto a football pitch and we put on our Donegal jerseys, that we are not just representing ourselves but that we are representing the whole county and when we pull off the jersey, we are still representatives of Donegal.

"That's very important for us, whether that be in Dublin at a pre- or post-match meal, whether that be speaking to media. We are conscious that we are representing Donegal and it is important that we uphold that tradition."

They have already broken a long-held tradition for losing, but, for Murphy, eternal salvation will come solely through victory on Sunday.

He is 23 but has already absorbed more lessons from both extremes of the football experience than most.

There were the lows and lowers of the pre-McGuinness era when they were maybe ranked ahead of only Cavan, Fermanagh and Antrim in Ulster.

And there was 2011, the year when, despite Dublin winning a first All-Ireland title in 16 tries, Donegal were the most talked-about team in Ireland.

That semi-final defeat, rather than the mud which was flung at Donegal afterwards, is the thing that Murphy most remembers from the year.

"It was extreme disappointment," he concedes. "First things first, it was a horrible feeling that day trudging off Croke Park.

"We felt we came quite close but at the end of the day semi-finals are like finals, they are there to be won and if you lose a semi-final, you are neither here nor there. It was a disappointing place to be."

So between losing in an All-Ireland semi-final last year and losing just about every time Donegal played in the championship in the years prior, Murphy has become pragmatic about the process.

Satisfaction

They might have gone from being everyone's least favourite team to their second favourite, but Murphy is unmoved about the methods.

"There is just a satisfaction that comes with winning games. Two years ago was the first Ulster Championship game I won as a player," he points out.

"Winning games, no matter what way you win them, still gives you the same sense of satisfaction, whether you won them by 500 points or whether you win by two, it does not matter a bit."


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