Michael Murphy is ready to hit the ground running for club and county
By John Harrington
To remain sharp during lockdown, Donegal star, Michael Murphy, went back to where he first honed the skills of game.
There are two apple trees in the Murphy family’s back-garden that have once again been repurposed as the goal-posts they were throughout his childhood.
“Yeah, I’ve been out the back lawn kicking between two apple trees,” he says. “I’m thirty years of age now that sounds quite sad but that’s essentially where it was.
“It really tied us down in the initial stages because the fields around my area aren’t suited to that. I’ve tried to get back out - you know, exercising, making do with the roads even though they’re not ideal.
“Our management team with Donegal did a brilliant job with looking at the environments each of us has and looking at a programme to suit - whether people have equipment and so on.
“They gave us a programme that would keep us actively engaged, keep our heads right and get us doing a bit of training.
“So, creativity wise, just again, I'm fortunate in that regard, I go out to the back garden onto the grass and I'm kicking there.”
Despite the constraints of lockdown, at no stage did Murphy decide just to take a complete break from football.
In fact, he has made the most of the time to strengthen any weaknesses in his body or skill-set to ensure he’d be ready to hit the ground running when collective training and playing could resume.
“When it first came, the initial feeling was that there may be a complete break from this a little while,” he says.
“Looking back over it all now - and I suppose were going to get ramped up again for club and county action - there was never a real detachment. I didn't feel it anyway. I never really got detached from things where I was able to put the bad away or put the ball away.
“I was always kept going with something. There was the fear of having something thrown at you next week or in the coming weeks.
“Then the time we finished up was towards the middle to end of the National League. That's when you're really beginning to find yourself as a player. That tends to be the time when my body comes good. I didn't want to lose any of that.
“I've been trying to practice as best I can but also take the opportunity to work on certain areas of my body that need more attention - groins, things like that which potentially could have a negative effect on playing time in the near future. It's an opportunity for them to get looked at, to get rehabbed, pre-habbed, get stronger and hopefully make me more durable to try and play as many more minutes as I can in the remainder of my career.”
Murphy is straining at the leash now that a programme of club and inter-county action is back on the horizon again.
He’s enthused by the prospect of being able to focus solely on club action for an extended period of time followed by the possibility of a knock-out inter-county championship.
“The overlap (between club and county) at times is kind of frustrating in so far as there's no real blueprint,” he says.
“Whereas it seems at the moment over this short period from what we're half-hearing or speculating, it's going to be club for a certain period and then it's going to be county for a certain period.
“So in the back of my head as a footballer it gives you the opportunity to throw yourself at that club for a certain period, move on, throw yourself at the county for a certain period.
“Whereas in a normal season it seems to be grey, it seems to be intertwined throughout, and you're making decisions on a weekly, two-week basis, about will I be able to play that club league game with an inter-county game on the next week or will I be able to play a League game the week after an inter-county game.
“Because the two are merged together you're making ongoing decisions. Whereas potentially with the rest of this current season there will be an opportunity to really throw yourself at both of them individually.”
Another positive to take from the lockdown from a Donegal point of have has been that it’s given players like Paddy McGrath, Stephen McMenamin, and Oisín Gallen the time to recover from injuries which threatened their involvement in the early rounds of the Championship.
Gallen spent two weeks in Australia last year at an AFL Draft Combine, but Murphy believes the rising star is fully committed to the Donegal cause for the foreseeable future.
"I’d be very encouraging for any player to go and try it - similar to how I got the opportunity with The Toughest Trade - in terms of the professional game. I know Oisin had a great time with it, as did Jason McGee and Eoghan Bán in other years. Oisin is well able to make up his own mind though, some lads need a bit more direction and advice than others and Oisin is definitely not one of them.
"Really smart, level headed lad who knows what he wants. He’s really driven to play for Donegal and that’s one thing that’s really evident from him - so that would influence him in any decision he would have to make. He loves playing for Donegal and I just know from training with him he’s hungry for success both individually and for Donegal as a whole. He’s his own man in that decision and he needed very little advice or guidance."
Gallen is arguably the most talented young footballer Donegal has produced since Murphy first broke onto the scene.
Just like Murphy, he plays the game with a maturity beyond his years.
“He’s been brilliant,” says Murphy of Gallen. “Such an exciting prospect. It’s important not for pressure to be heaped on him but the type of character he is, he’s just so driven to keep improving and keep going and keep trying to break down the next footballing milestone in his career.
“Just a mature head on young shoulders. It’s crazy to hear the date of births of lads like him, that we’re creeping into playing with players who were born in the 2000s.”
Michael Murphy was speaking ahead of the final two episodes of AIB’s GAA series ‘The Toughest Trade’ on Virgin Media Television this summer. The series features GAA stars Aidan O’Shea, Michael Murphy, Lee Chin, and Brendan Maher as they swap sports with their counterparts in American Football, Rugby, Ice Hockey and Cricket. For exclusive content and to see why AIB are backing Club and County follow us @AIB_GAA on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and AIB.ie/GAA.