THE LESSONS of last year were firmly in Michael Murphy’s mind when yesterday’s Super 8 clash with Meath went to the melting pot.
Last year, an opening loss to Dublin had Donegal under pressure for their meetings with Roscommon and Tyrone.
When Tyrone won at MacCumhaill Park last August, it was a first defeat in 22 League or Championship games for Donegal in Ballybofey. Donegal were intent yesterday to set the tone in a home opener.
“We know of the back of last year that getting beat in that very first game was really sucker punch and we didn’t realise that until we were going into the third game,” Murphy said after the nine-point win over the Royals.
“So it was imperative that we got off to a good start. We’re playing Kerry and Mayo who were two of the best teams in the country over the last couple of years.
“The game was in the melting pot, and Meath are a very good team and I think the nine points were very, very flattering.
“It’s important now that we dust ourselves down very, very quickly with a seven-day turnaround before we head back to Dublin.
“We’re looking forward to it but there are a few things that we need to brush up on.”
Donegal had led 1-9 to 0-8, with Patrick McBrearty marking his 100th appearance for the county with a blistering goal after 25 minutes.
Meath, though, hit back and, after Michael Newman netted a penalty, substitute Darragh Campion put the visitors in front.
Donegal, at that stage, stared down the barrel and Ballybofey, briefly, rumbled in anxiousness.
From there to the finish, Donegal scored 1-8 to Meath’s 0-1, with Oisin Gallen drilling in an injury time goal.
Murphy said: “Credit where credit is due to the boys he showed a lot of character, and our subs bench gave us fresh legs and fresh impetus, and I think it was the only that Oisin got towards the end that gave us a bit of breathing space.
“But nine points was definitely flattering from our case and you can’t let other teams back into it after being up by five points and that is something we will have to look at.
“The questions were asked and that was the way it was always going to be.
“In the games that we had in Ulster, there was always that little bit of a game in them, so we knew this was going to be a lot closer.
“It’s a Super 8s game and it’s the best teams that are left in Ireland and they were always going to be tighter and so they proved to be.”
The mercury rose from early afternoon in Ballybofey with supporters – mindful of the first come, first serve policy – streamed through the gates well in advance of the start time.
“The sun was out and there was actually a real strong heat in it too,” Murphy noted.
“It was really, really warm but the crowd was absolutely fantastic and it was brilliant to see such a crowd here.
“People were here very early and when we were coming in on the bus we could see that stand was full and hour and a bit beforehand.
“It was brilliant to see that and it was them that really pushed us on when things were tough there.”