DONEGAL debutant Dermot Molloy’s first taste of championship football whetted the appetite before his summer was cut short.
Twelve months ago John Joe Doherty sprung something of a surprise when he threw Molloy into an Ulster championship match against Down in Ballybofey. Molloy had starred as the U21s, managed by Jim McGuinness, plotted their way to an All-Ireland final.
Alongside Michael Murphy, the Naomh Conaill club man spearheaded the Donegal attack and on the night of the All-Ireland final Molloy was their standout performer.
That U21 team and their progress to the heartbreaking loss, though, showed an undercurrent of talent was streaming in. While Donegal were expected to benefit in years to come, it was only a matter of weeks before the 19-year-old Glenties man was thrown into the senior fray.
Against Down, there were scant few signs of edginess, as Molloy was central to all Donegal’s early positivity. In the first half alone he bagged 1-3, proof of the old idiom of ‘duck to water’.
Donegal’s initial progression proved a powderpuff as Down triumphed in extra-time thanks to a late Brendan Coulter goal. That night, as the day ran through his head, Molloy was disappointed with the result but content with his debut. However, as he watched The Sunday Game, Tony Davis spoke about an incident that showed him sling an elbow in the direction of Damien Rafferty.
As the wheels turned on the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) review, referee Joe McQuillan stated he would’ve sent off the Donegal forward had he seen the incident. Molloy got a four-week ban, ruling him out of their qualifier against Armagh in Crossmaglen.
“It was a dream debut to get the goal and then three points against Down last year,” Molloy says.
“I suppose for any young lad it would’ve been but then I learned my season was effectively over when I heard the news from the CCCC, who had spotted that elbow that wasn’t.
“I was actually away with Michael and Leo at a Cadbury’s award night for the U21s and the messages about my ban came through on my phone.
“My family were even more down than I was. I was looking forward to the Armagh game and it was only then the shock crept in when I realised I wouldn’t be part of it.”
Come Sunday, Molloy’s long wait for a second championship appearance will finally come to an end. Antrim rolled into town as huge outsiders two years ago and Donegal were the sitting ducks. The shock reverberated around the country. This time, Donegal plan to make sure they don’t make the same mistake twice.
“People are saying we might be dark horses for Ulster but as a group of players we are not saying that,” Molloy said. “If you get carried away at this stage and start thinking about Ulster finals or semi-finals you are not going to concentrate on what’s important right now — and that’s Antrim.”
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