When you run your finger to scrape off the dust on Donegal’s season, the turning point for many would be Michael Murphy’s first introduction of the campaign eight minutes before half-time when Armagh visited Ballybofey in March.
On a night when the uprights on the goalposts wobbled in the wind and rain, the captain’s cameo, with the sides locked at 0-3 apiece, laid the foundations for a 1-9 to 0-11 win. From there, Donegal overcame Cork, Kildare and then Meath at Croke Park to win Division 2 before overcoming Fermanagh, Tyrone and the Cavan to lift the Anglo-Celt Cup, confirming them as Ulster champions for the second year in a row.
Another thing that happened since that night was the emergence of Jamie Brennan as their goalscorer-in-chief. The Bundoran forward hadn’t found the net in 2019, evening seeing Tipperary goalkeeper Michael O’Reilly save his penalty in their previous outing — a surprise 3-9 to 0-13 loss in Thurles — but since then Brennan has been on a hot streak.
Brennan has been a goalscorer in all but one of those games and alongside Murphy and then Patrick McBreaty, who returned from an ACL injury that meant 10 months on the sidelines, Donegal have a dynamic cutting edge heading into the Super 8s.
Brennan, yesterday named GAA/GPA Player of the Month for June, is content to learn from the 2012 All-Ireland winners, whom he enjoying staying back after training with for shooting practice.
“Things were rocky for me when I had the penalty saved against Tipperary,” Brennan admits. “We lost the game, but that drives you to improve. The likes of Michael and Patrick are always out doing extra kicking and I just wanted to be at their levels.
“My weaker aspect was striking the ball so I’d have looked a lot at the likes of Michael and Conor McManus and how they connect with the ball.
McBrearty noted in the wake of the 1-24 to 2-16 Ulster final success over Cavan last month that the Donegal panel watched the recording back of their victory over the same side in the 2018 championship and one thing that stuck in his mind was the bulking in Brennan’s physique.
One of Brennan’s trump cards is his speed and having completed is degree in Human Nutrition at Sligo Institute of Technology is aware of the balancing act required between pace and power, knocking his head together with Donegal S&C coaches Paul Fisher and Aaron Kyles.
“That’s part and parcel of it. A lot of time is spent developing the body for contact. With Paul and Aaron, we’re doing great work in bulking up and injury prevention.
“I came in very light, maybe 68 or 70kgs. I wasn’t having much of the gym, but once they showed me the mechanics and the science, maybe I’ve actually gained a bit of pace.”