AS THINGS STAND, Donegal are tipped to be Dublin’s biggest threat to their five-in-a-row dreams.

Donegal players celebrating their back-to-back Ulster SFC success.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They defended their Ulster crown with a clinical display against Cavan and have made a winning start to their Super 8s campaign. Meath had their pulses racing for most of the encounter in Ballybofey, but Donegal’s experience and game management skills yielded a nine-point victory.

Team captain Michael Murphy has always been credited as being at the coalface of Donegal’s success. That praise of course is justified. He skippered the county to All-Ireland glory in 2012 and has the versatility to flourish in midfield and attacking positions.

Murphy’s stock value surfaced again this week when Meath coach Colm Nally offered an interesting observation on the We Are Meath podcast.

I’m not saying that Donegal are a one-man team but they’re the closest team I’ve ever seen to a one-man team,” he said.

“Michael Murphy was getting scores, then he was in the middle catching balls and then at the end, he was clearing the ball off the line.

“If you put him in our team, I think you’d see a different result.” 

Murphy is certainly integral to Donegal’s progress but Declan Bonner’s side are not solely dependent on his performances for results. Nor are they close to that scenario, as Nally suggests.

Michael Murphy in action against Meath.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Up front, they have a consistently reliable forward in Paddy McBrearty. The Kilcar attacker — who surprisingly doesn’t have an All-Star award yet — repeatedly delivers for Donegal.

His 1-6 against Meath last weekend included a well-executed goal in the first half.

McBrearty’s movement had all the hallmarks of a scoring assassin. After allowing the ball skip past his marker, he chipped it into his hands to give himself even more of an advantage, before racing through to bury the ball in the roof of the net.

Patrick McBrearty with a rocket of a goal for @officialdonegal!

— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 14, 2019

He was just as efficient in the Ulster final where he scored five points in all. In fact, he was a standout performer for Donegal throughout all of the provincial championship, starting with a five-point haul against Fermanagh which was his first start for Donegal since suffering a torn ACL in 2018.

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The dreaded knee injury can place question marks over the future of an athlete’s career. Some take a bit of time to rediscover their form after the lengthy rehabilitation period, but McBrearty made an immediate impact upon his return.

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He indicated that he was back in his stride when he returned to club football with Kilcar in April, but stepping up to the inter-county grade was always going to be the real litmus test.

And he passed without any fuss.

At only 25, McBrearty has still plenty of road left in his career. But this talented attacker has been firmly on the radar since before Donegal’s All-Ireland triumph seven years ago.

McBrearty after Donegal’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Kildare in 2011.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Despite only turning 19 shortly before that decider against Mayo, he had already built himself into then manager Jim McGuinness’ plans the previous season. And his attitude as a teenager offers an insight into how he has managed to keep company with the best forwards in the country for almost a decade since then.

“This has always been part of the plan,” he said before the 2012 All-Ireland final.

When I was 14, 15, boys might be out drinking or whatever.  But when I was on my first night out, one of my mates said ‘Just take a drink’, and I said I had things on my mind. I wanted to be one of the best footballers in Ireland, I said at the time.

“Hopefully I am on that track.”

McBrearty doesn’t need to hope any more.

He’s certainly going the right direction for Donegal, and while Murphy’s contribution is key, they’re equally reliant on proven performers like McBrearty.

Should he maintain his form to help Donegal prevail beyond the Super 8s, and perhaps even halt Dublin’s drive for five, McBrearty might also land that elusive All-Star by the end of 2019.

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