BY CHRIS MCNULTY
FOR the third successive summer, Donegal and Monaghan will fight for the right to be called kings of Ulster.
Martin O’Reilly sneaked in for a killer goal against Derry on Saturday evening in Clones and Donegal will be back in St Tiernach’s Park to joust with Monaghan on July 19.
Donegal and Monaghan have built up quite the portfolio in recent years with a couple of feisty affairs, including the last two Ulster finals, Donegal winning last year after falling at the hands of the Farney in 2013.
Donegal’s 1-9 to 0-10 win over Derry sets up another duel in Clones. While there’ll be plenty of talk between now and then, Donegal captain Michael Murphy insists the bubble around the squad will stay intact.
“We’re lucky with this group of players that the chat from the outside doesn’t effect the group,” said the Glenswilly man.
“We just look after our own performances. Nothing in the build up to the game will interfere with that.”
Donegal have a chance to win a fourth Ulster title in five years having reached a fifth successive final for only the second time. Between 1989 and 1993, Donegal contested five Ulster finals, winning in 1990 and 1992.
Indeed, this is only the fifth time in the history of the Ulster Championship that a county will contest five-in-a-row, the first since that fabled Donegal side of the late 80s and early 90s.
“That era has moved on and we’re in a different era now,” noted the Donegal manager, Rory Gallagher, who has managed to navigate his way to the final via one of the toughest routes possible.
Antrim were in six finals in succession from 1908-13, while Cavan were in 10 on the spin from 1928-37 and a staggering 18 from ‘39-56 with Down appearing in all 12 from 1958-69.
As a further measure of what this Donegal sequence represents, Saturday’s win over Derry was their 16th in their last 17 Ulster Championship games. Donegal have come from the preliminary round, beating Tyrone, Armagh and Derry along the way.
Only four times in 40 years has the Anglo-Celt been won by a side from the preliminary round – two of those by Donegal in 2011 and 2012.
Now, they stand 70 minutes from another title.
Gallagher said: “We were in a ferociously hard side of the draw. Derry had a great chance to get ready for us. Listen, we’re delighted to get through, but we know that we have an awful lot to work on.
“It’s exciting. I enjoyed the build-up to the last three Ulster finals I was involved for. It’s a great testament to these lads’ consistency and pedigree as it’s their fifth in a row. All that goes out the window now though and it’s just about us and Monaghan in 2015 – it’ll be a hell of a battle.”
Derry put it up to Donegal on Saturday evening, but O’Reilly’s goal and a couple of magical moments from Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden paved the way for a return trip to Clones in three weeks’ time.
It was far from vintage Donegal, but Gallagher noted: “It’s all about winning at this level.”
The final brings Gallagher into direct combat with Malachy O’Rourke, the Monaghan manager who managed Gallagher for a year at Fermanagh.
Gallagher said: “The two teams know each other really well and we’re on one Ulster final victory each.
“There’s a lot at stake. It’ll be dogged, tense and nail-biting.”
It’s just the way in these parts.
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Posted: 12:16 pm June 30, 2015