IT’S 150 UP FOR MAGIC MIKE BUT DE­FENCE IS KEY

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - Sports - BY PAUL KEANE

Kerry v Done­gal Croke Park 4pm

ON the oc­ca­sion of his 150th game for Done­gal, it is re­mark­able Michael Mur­phy still di­vides opin­ion as he does.

Meath great Colm O’Rourke got stuck into Joe Brolly on the Sun­day Game last month for sug­gest­ing Mur­phy is a great player.

O’Rourke claimed Mur­phy has been a pe­riph­eral fig­ure in too many big games over the years and that ‘great­ness’ is ul­ti­mately “dic­tated by the im­pact in very big Cham­pi­onship matches in Croke Park”.

“He was marked out of it by Ai­dan O’Ma­hony in an All-Ire­land fi­nal,” said O’Rourke, point­ing to Done­gal’s 2014 fi­nal de­feat to Kerry as

Ex­hibit A.

To­day will be an­other of those very big Cham­pi­onship matches in Croke Park for Done­gal, a re­peat of that 2014 fi­nal, and a huge op­por­tu­nity for Mur­phy to stick it to crit­ics like O’Rourke.

The 2012 All-Ire­land win­ning cap­tain is ar­guably in the form of his ca­reer and, iron­i­cally, is fresh off a huge dis­play against O’Rourke’s Meath.

He was man of the match in last week­end’s Su­per 8s win in Bally­bofey, prompt­ing Meath coach Colm Nally to claim Done­gal would have lost with­out him. “The best foot­baller in Ire­land,” was Nally’s sum­mary of the pow­er­house full-for­ward who ap­pears to have been given free li­cence to roam the field and af­fect the game as he sees fit.

Aside from an ap­par­ent leg in­jury suf­fered by Eoghan Ban Gal­lagher in train­ing this week, Done­gal have it all go­ing for them right now.

Martin McHugh, an All-Ire­land win­ner with Done­gal in 1992, reck­ons the main fo­cus for the Ul­ster cham­pi­ons should be im­prov­ing at the back.

McHugh said: “We could have con­ceded three or four goals against Meath. Even for the penalty they got, Meath were al­lowed to run through our de­fence.

“We have to stop that against Kerry be­cause you’re com­ing up against maybe the best for­ward line in the coun­try out­side of Dublin’s. We’re go­ing to have to tighten up and not give away as much in de­fence.”

Like Mur­phy, goal­keeper Shaun Pat­ton (left) has been a key man this sum­mer and McHugh reck­ons Kerry will try to curb his in­flu­ence.

McHugh said:

“Kerry will def­i­nitely work on him, they al­ways tar­get keep­ers. Mayo’s kick-outs were ter­ri­ble against Kerry so it’s im­por­tant Done­gal give those op­tions out the field for the kick-outs.”

CON­TRAST OF EMO­TIONS McShane en­joys his goal (above) but it’s hell for Ian Maguire

IN­FLU­EN­TIAL Michael Mur­phy is in the form of his life

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