By Frank Craig
Michael Murphy hopes that Declan Bonner can retain the services of Stephen Rochford for next season.
From a campaign that had, until the weekend at least, delivered so much promise, the Ulster champions’ All-Ireland aspirations ultimately ended in disappointing fashion against Mayo in Castlebar.
Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday where he picked up the July PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month award, Murphy said it’s important that there is as little disruption as possible to the current managerial set-up.
“We’d be very hopeful as a group of players, we definitely want Stephen (to stay). He’s been a brilliant addition along with Karl (Lacey) and Declan and Gary Boyle.
“He’s top class. He’s responded well to the whole group and the group, by and large, have responded well to him too. He just challenges everybody and pushed buttons. It comes from that outside type of thing which has been positive. We’d be hopeful but we know the commitment is massive for him. You’d still want him involved next year without a doubt.”
Murphy – who is surely on his way to third All-Star statuette – doesn’t envisage any wholesale changes to the playing panel either despite retirements already being touted in some quarters.
“Everyone speaks about Frank (McGlynn) and Neil (McGee) as two of the elder statesmen but they’re still relatively fresh. The two boys were disappointed to pick up the injuries that they picked up this year and not to be able to contribute to the same degree that they wanted at the ‘Super 8’ stage.
“I know that within the dressing room they are two huge figures. They have young souls at heart and are able to respond – they know the chat and the lingo with the younger lads.
“They’re still a huge part of the whole thing. I’d be hopeful that they’d be mad hungry to get back again next year and give it another lash.”
Just four days out from the end of their championship summer, Murphy admits that it’s still a very raw nerve.
“I suppose you feel sorry for yourself for a few days anyway and then you get no sympathy so you have to start getting back into things. You just have to get up and get on with it.
“Listen, you’d be thinking about it every day and thinking about the way you performed and individually. The game goes through your head on repeat, but you just have to get back and get on with it, try and get back to club football as best as you can. Get out there and get your next game under your belt.”
Donegal were under duress in relation to injuries prior to the weekend’s clash at McHale Park. Still, Murphy felt the side had enough in the tank and enough in reserve to get the job done.
“We thought we had the level of consistency that was missing the previous year with our performances this season. To not have that level of consistency or keep that level going for the Mayo game was just the really, really disappointing thing.
“Even with the injuries that we had coming into the game, we still felt confident due to the fact that we had proven a level of consistency throughout the year. It’s gut-wrenching for everyone to finish in the way we did and to just not perform to the level that we could.”
He added: “Any game you go out and play, you try to stop the opposition but then they go on and play their own stuff and play their own football too and their footballing ability was evident there. It was a tricky day, weather wise, and your execution had to be right bang on the money and there’s was more on the money than ours.
“Yes, they had a few mistakes, likewise we tried to stop them as best we could too, and we did it for periods, but not for long enough or not often enough.
“Last year maybe our form wasn’t at that level week in week out, day in day out. We thought this year coming off midway through the National League, through Ulster, through a good part of the ‘Super 8s’, it was starting to get to a level that we thought we needed to get to in order to get a certain amount of belief within the squad.
“That has been a positive all year apart from the big blotch that was the Mayo game.
“A lot of younger players are a year further down the line, we’ve even introduced one or two younger players again. Oisin Gallen has been there, Odhrán McFadden Ferry, it’s been really, really good to see them make contributions in their first year, it’s phenomenal for them at that level.
“That has been a plus for us. I do believe we are a small bit better improved.”
Despite going back to back in Ulster, the fact remains that Donegal have failed to make a dent in the Super 8s for the second successive season.
Mayo dished out a similar medicine to the one Tyrone forced down Donegal necks back in 2018 and just like last term, they’ll have to look on from the outside in when the semi-finals roll around this weekend.
“Unfortunately, it is two big games at two crucial times of the year that we’ve lost, two years in a row. That’ll be the target next year, to navigate your way through Ulster, or a back door, to get ourselves in a similar scenario and try and overcome that obstacle.
“Going back to that level of consistency that we were hitting throughout this year, there was a realistic target there of getting through to an All-Ireland semi, and God knows where else after that.
“I thought it was a realistic ambition after that. You have to set that again for next year, but there’s a hell of a lot of footballing ground to make before you get to those stages next year.
“It’s important to the team that we set those bars and keep everybody hungry.”