Michael Murphy delighted to be back in action
By Michael Devlin
Anyone looking into Donegal’s Allianz Football League Division Two triumph over Meath would have noticed a couple of things.
Firstly was Donegal’s willingness to kick the ball into the inside forward line, where Jamie Brennan and Croke Park debutant Oisin Gallen were in fine form in front of the posts.
The second, and more significant aspect, was the effectiveness of the Tir Chonaill talisman, Michael Murphy, as the fulcrum of that attack.
Murphy operated in the final third of the pitch as chief ball-winner, playmaker and score-taker in a second half display where Donegal’s varied tactics of kick and support play came together perfectly.
After a dreadful start, and trailing the Royals by five at half-time, Donegal stormed back into the game with Glenswilly clubman Murphy involved in almost everything they created.
As the minutes ticked on, Murphy’s influence grew, and along with Gallen and Brennan the trio contributed 1-13 of Donegal’s winning 1-17 total.
Where Meath fullback Conor McGill generally broke even with Murphy in the first period, a change of tack from Declan Bonner’s side brought the best out of his full-forward.
Two of Murphy’s seven points came from offensive marks, and his leadership shone through as he added five points from frees to spearhead Donegal’s comeback.
Indeed, his intelligence in laying on Brennan’s game-changing goal in the 57th minute was a clear indicator of Murphy’s prominence. After expertly timing a run off Gallen and collecting the youngster’s offload, he slipped the killer pass to an onrushing Brennan who smashed the ball to the roof of the Meath goal.
His performance on the night revisited a much-deliberated debate in modern Gaelic football: Where is Michael Murphy’s best position?
“Just to get out on the pitch is the big one,” was Murphy’s ever-humble response to the question at the launch of the 2019 GAA Kellogs Cul Camps in Croke Park.
“It's only when you're out injured that you realise out there playing is where you can to be as a player. Whether that's in the middle of the field, in defence or up top, I don't really mind.
“This year, since I've come back, I've been played in the forward line a little bit more. I've tried to work my game around that as much as possible. That's what I will do now coming into championship. If you're called upon to move out the field. I'll try and do that.”
Murphy only returned to Donegal action this season in round five of the league, appearing off the bench against Armagh to score a crucial 1-2 in a one-point victory. That win helped put Donegal’s league campaign back on track, having faltered to Tipperary and Fermanagh in previous weekends.
The start of 2019 was spent rehabilitating his knee after surgery in early January, and Murphy admits getting back into the swing of things was tougher than he’d expected.
“When I got back into things it was that fourth game in the National League and I was just glad to get a number of league games underneath the belt because it wasn't looking good at the start of January.
“The speed of the National League now is gone through the roof. It's right up on par with what a championship game would be. It takes a little while longer, I'd hoped to be back a wee bit earlier in the league but the operation and recuperating from that took a wee while longer than normal. Touch wood, everything's good at the moment and I'll push forward now towards championship.”
There they face Fermanagh, a side who boasted the meanest defence in the League with just 6-56 conceded over seven fixtures, and average of under 11 points a game. Away to Fermanagh at Brewster Park on May 26th for that Ulster opener, Donegal can expect a stern test.
“They’re very, very competitive,” says Murphy. “We know from playing them, we’ve been playing them every year be that McKenna Cup, National League or Championship. So we know they’re going to be damn competitive. They’re a very skilful side, they’ve a lot of sharp forwards within their team who can rack up big scores.
“Systematically, defensively they’re very strong, they’ve shown that in this year’s National League. We played them this year at home in Donegal and we were beaten comprehensively in the end.
“It’s going to be massive from our own point of view, it’s going to be a huge, huge challenge, away from home too in Brewster Park which is always difficult for us so it’s a huge challenge for us in the first round.”
Old friend Rory Gallagher will be old foe, the current Fermanagh boss having served as right hand man to Jim McGuinness for three of his four years in charge of Donegal, with a helping hand in the first two of their three Ulster triumphs in that tenure.
In just over in six weeks’ time, Murphy will have to park that relationship to one side for 70 minutes.
“You don’t come across as much, Rory I suppose is living in a different end of the county to ourselves, so you don’t really be coming across him as much. But we’re very, very friendly, all of us in Donegal. We’ve huge, huge time for Rory.
“He was very, very good to us as players, very, very good to us as a coach. He brought us along as footballers. His knowledge of the game is brilliant. But yeah, then to come up towards championship, teams are vying for the one thing which is a win and a victory, so obviously Rory will be on one side of it and we’ll be on the other side of it.
“You just park it, and that’s the mutual respect you tend to have for each other coming up to those games.”