By Frank Craig

Captain Michael Murphy insists that Donegal are ready for whatever Antrim are going to throw their way on Sunday.

With a place in this year’s Ulster SFC final up for grabs, Donegal are heavy favourites with the bookies to advance to a fourth successive provincial decider. But Murphy says that kind of talk won’t influence Donegal’s efforts at the weekend.

And he has warned the Saffrons that his side won’t be taking anything for granted in Clones.

He said: “Listen, we’re treating this like we treat every other game – Antrim have our full respect and attention. We’ve got a great amount of work done over the last few weeks since Derry.

“A lot was made of the problems we had last year with injuries and so on. But it’s brilliant now that we have so many bodies back out on the pitch. Lads too that have finished up at college… that is a difficult juggle also and you can see that they are now really enjoying themselves and fully focused on their football.

“That’s why is was such a big thing getting over Derry. It has allowed us to get the head down now collectively on the training field. But all that will count for nothing if we don’t transfer what we’ve been working on out on to the field of play against Antrim.”

Injuries to key personnel like Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher and Martin McElhinney have all cleared up with all three returning to full training recently. The side spent the weekend at a training camp in Inishowen where Rory Kavanagh was also back in the mix following his recent suspension.

Murphy says that competition within the group to be included against Antrim from the off is huge.

“Rory’s return gives us a number of lifts,” he added. “He’s a fantastic player obviously but he’s also a leader in the dressing room. Experience is key around that middle sector and hopefully he will pick up where he left off in the League where he was very impressive.

“Competition increases for positions as a result as well and that all bodes well for us. Everyone is putting in a huge effort.

“In terms of Jim and the backroom lads and what they’re asking of us; it’s about us taking it on board and trying to deliver a performance as best we can. Jim is great at that – creating an environment that allows us to put our best foot forward.

“It’s encouraging when you see people impressing and improving as an individual too because of that input. It carries on to the whole collective and the thing evolves all the time.”

As for Liam Bradley’s side and what Donegal can expect, Murphy feels that Antrim showed enough quality in spells of their win over Fermanagh to be taken seriously. And the Tir Chonaill man is certain that no degree of complacency will creep into their efforts as the weekend edges ever closer.  

“All county sides now are so well prepared,” he explained. “Antrim, no different than ourselves, will have been working for months and no side will ever want to give up that effort too easily.

“They’ll see this as a fantastic chance to get to a final as well. That is exactly where this is all at. And over 70 minutes, in one game, you can’t afford to be complacent.”

Murphy hopes that the county minors can set a positive tone to the afternoon on Sunday, throw in, 12noon, before the main event gets under way at 2pm.

“We’ve been training at the Centre of Excellence and sometimes you bump into the lads as they’re coming off the field. I’ve got to know a few of them and they’re great lads who are working really hard.

“Declan Bonner and the backroom team are doing really well for them and it’s really encouraging. Minor football is a huge commitment with things like the Leaving Cert. So with that out of the way it would be a great start to the day to see them get the win.”

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