IF PROVINCIAL TITLES are perceived to be a devalued currency as the GAA world gazes at the impending All-Ireland series, then it is not a value system the Donegal camp would agree with.
Before Jim McGuinness kick-started this decade, the county had only been crowned Ulster champions on five occasions.
When they saw off Cavan last month, it ensured they have doubled the county’s provincial title haul over the course of this decade.
Hugh McFadden was in the stands cheering on for the 2011 and 2012 triumphs, he was on the panel with a front-row view of the 2014 success before being immersed in the action at midfield for Donegal’s last two successes.
“To win an Ulster medal is an absolutely prestigious thing,” says McFadden.
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“We really cherish our Anglo Celts up around Donegal. We’ve been lucky enough as a group of people to win it five times this decade. We’ve been lucky enough to have won two in a row.
“But we’ve lost many finals. 2013, 2015, 2016, and we know the pain of defeat that comes along with losing a provincial final. To be able to bring the Anglo Celt back to the people of Donegal was just phenomenal.”
It’s been a phase of striking consistency considering the emphasis placed on Ulster fare.
“I think it comes down to the quality of player and that’s alluding to the elder statesmen of the group,” outlines McFadden.
“The boys that started this journey off in 2011 embedded the motivation for the rest of the players to come in. They sparked the imagination and the dreams of the young Donegal footballer at the time.
“The likes of Michael (Murphy), Colm McFadden, Neil Gallagher and all those heroes that started off in 2011 and got the ball rolling. We’ve been lucky that Declan has brought through a very high standard of footballers from the minor and U21 teams that he coached.”
Murphy has been their talisman from the start and continues to lead the way.
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“Anybody who has grown up as a fan around 2011, 2012, you fell in love with that Donegal team and he was the main man leading the charge.
“Behind the scenes, he’s a very good footballer obviously, he’s a phenomenal leader and a good fella. We’re very proud to have him playing for Donegal but most importantly, it’s just his desire and hunger to do well for Donegal which is the most inspiring thing.”
Overcoming Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan has propelled Donegal back into the frame for the last eight.
It hasn’t been a prosperous stage for them of late. They couldn’t emerge from the round-robin action last season and have not featured in a semi-final since they famously upset Dublin in 2014.
“We’re probably looking to bring a more consistent level of performance,” states McFadden, looking ahead. “We played well against Dublin in spells last year. We fortuitously got a good result against Roscommon. But ultimately we came up very short against Tyrone in that decider in MacCumhaill Park.
“You have to park the pain of those defeats and try to come back and win another game. We were lucky enough to get over Tyrone earlier on in the year. But they’ve shown the quality they have in the qualifiers already.
“We’re just looking, trying to make ourselves better players individually and if that can make us better as a collective, that’s where we’re aiming at. The management too have learned loads from the preparation and what they did last year too. It’s going to be interesting.”
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