Murphy enjoying being the man in the middle
By John Harrington
Michael Murphy has been a revitalised figure for the Donegal footballers during the last year.
The niggling injuries that inhibited last year are a thing of the past, and he’s looking fit, fresh, and very sharp.
For much of his career he was the leader of the Donegal attack, but now he’s their chief conductor in the middle of the pitch.
From there can be a much more constant influence on the shape of a game, and he admits he’s enjoying being in the thick of the action.
“Since Rory came in we sat down and I'm playing more out around the middle now,” says Murphy. “So far that tends to be where he sees me fitting in.
“Out there allows you to get as many aspects of the game as possible whether it's kick-passing, trying to defend and tackle or trying to get forward and being creative. It's an area of the field where you can try and do all that.
“If one of the areas aren't going well for you on any different day at least you can be fairly successful in one of the other areas of the pitch. The way the game's going now it is about speed and it's something I've never been blessed with too much so I have to try and think outside the box and see what way I can contribute to the team.
“I'll stick at that and I seem to be embedded there at the moment. I'm enjoying it there too and I'm building up relationships with the young lads that are around there in beside.
“Jason McGee from Falcarragh seems to be there at the moment and he's a great lad. It's good to build up a relationship and get to know him.
“Seeing him coming in now as a 19 or 20 year brings back memories of when you first came in yourself. He's a great lad and please God we can push on.”
Murphy’s midfield partner McGee isn’t the only Donegal young-gun to have impressed this year.
Four players made their championship debuts in Donegal’s convincing Ulster SFC Quarter-Final victory over Antrim – Caolan Ward, Jason McGee, Michael Carroll, and Jamie Brennan – and all of them made the grade.
“The younger lads have been brilliant so far, any young lads that are coming into teams seem to have very little fear about them,” says Murphy.
“It's a positive in one way and so far it's a very big positive, but the challenges of championship football is completely different. What's required in championship football is massive and it's so magnified and scrutinised.
“Teams have analysed things so much now that every wee detail needs to be dotted and crossed.
“The lads know that too and it's good for them to get a game against Antrim under the belt and get out in front of a championship crowd. They'll be mad to push on.”
Everything we’ve seen so far from these young Donegal footballers suggests they will continue to go from strength to strength.
They were thrown in at the deep end in Division One of the Allianz Football League this year and did more than just survived, they thrived.
“Yeah, it was sink or swim and they had to swim,” says Murphy. “From day one Rory and the management were very positive. Obviously it's not going to come together all at once fairly quickly.
“Rory in fairness gave them that confidence that you know no matter what, they are going to playing for a number of years. It wasn't a case there was a mallet over the head that one bad performance was going to lead to them never playing again.
“That breeds really good confidence into them. Likewise the type of characters they are, they've very little fear and you can put a bit of importance on coming through successful minor and U21 teams.
“That did help, just things like getting to play in venues and a style of football similar to what we play with the seniors. They really knew they were capable at provincial level to push forward and they were confident they were able.
“You need to keep proving it day after day, day after day and build that up over a number of years. You look at the successful teams in the country and what the likes of Dublins, Mayos, Kerrys and Tyrones are doing.
“They're just constantly building confidence through winning games and an understanding with each other. That's the only way you can do it.
“You can't all of a sudden just become confident, you have to build wins under your belt and get confidence and know how from that.
“That's what these teams that are challenging for the All-Irelands are doing. That's what they have. You can really put no price on how important that is.”
Tyrone have always been the yard-stick by which Donegal teams have measured themselves by, so today’s Quarter-Final will tell us one way or another whether this new-look Donegal team is the real deal yet.
Donegal came up short against their great rivals in last year’s Ulster Final, and Murphy knows they’ll have to show they’ve learned from that experience.
“They're a massive test,” he says. “Mickey Harte will always have Tyrone well-organised and drilled. On the back of them beating us last year in an Ulster final, there's still a bit of hurt there definitely from that.
“They were the far better team on the day and they totally deserved their win. I keep harping on about it, but I want to win things with this team and in order to do that we need to take each game as it comes.
“We're not at that level where the team has been together for years where we can count on that know how, we need to build that up now.”