By Frank Craig

Donegal captain Michael Murphy says that having Karl Lacey back approaching full fitness is a massive boost for the side.

So much of Donegal’s gameplan hinges on the Four Masters man being at its axis. And with the 2012 Footballer of the Year excellently smothering out the influence of Mark Lynch; it was no coincidence that Donegal mustered their best display for quite some time at the weekend in Celtic Park.

Murphy said of his teammate: “Karl Lacey is a four-time All Star and a Footballer of the Year. You don’t come across one of those every day.

“We were very confident that he would be able to do a job for us defensively. But going forward as well, I thought he was phenomenal. To have a player like that is a massive, massive bonus.

“The work Karl has put in this year has been huge. He put it in last year as well but he just couldn’t get over the line in terms of game-time. He has been traveling up and down from Limerick and he has rarely missed a training session.

“It’s a credit to him and it’s a credit to everyone else who have had injuries but have come back from them for us. That has been a big plus.”

Donegal were forced to go without the suspended Rory Kavanagh at centre field against Derry, while Neil Gallagher, despite originally being named to start, was also ruled out just minutes before throw in. And that, many thought, would tilt the advantage completely in the hosts’ favour.

However, McGuinness flooded the middle third from the off as bodies gravitated inwards and outwards in unison and from all angles for the Derry kickouts. That, along with the withdrawal of Fergal Doherty through injury, allowed Donegal to get to grips with that area in the first period.

And with the heavy artillery of Gallagher and Martin McElhinney eventually sprung from reserve in the second period, Derry completely capitulated in that vital middle third.

“In fairness, I think all the lads that came in did fantastic but you expect nothing more than that of them. Everyone has put their hand up for more game time and that’s all you can ask for.

“Boys have come back in from injury and that’s the kind of attitude you want going into the next day.”

Given what had just unfolded, it would be easy to forget that Donegal had come into this game with a considerable question mark hanging over their heads. Murphy was asked whether this performance and result had gone some way in answering their critics.

“There was enough said about us in the lead in so whatever this result says about us now, I’m not so sure. We can’t control that. All we can do it put the head down and push on.   

“Ulster Championship is what it is and it would be foolish to ever take anything for granted. Whoever we come up against the next day out will be another very tough game. We just take it one game at a time and that won’t change.

“The only thing we can control is the effort we put in ourselves. We can get fitter, we can play better we can look at loads of wee things. That’s the aim now this week back at training.”

Murphy added that there is plenty of room for improvement ahead of what he calls a vital four-week period between now and their next outing – an Ulster semi-final.

He added: “We’re happy to have come to Celtic Park and got the win. It wasn’t a complete performance by any means but it was a performance that got us over the line. That’s all that matters.

“It was very claustrophobic at times out there and both sides had to make their chances count when they came along. Thankfully, at the start of the second-half, we did that. We got the goal and those few points.  

“We needed them all as the scoreboard showed at the end of the game. We were playing Derry side on their own patch and a team that came into the game as favourites. They weren’t Division 1 League finalists for nothing.”

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