Wednesday 7 December 2016

Comment: The idea of Michael Murphy is far more impressive than the unfulfilled reality

Published 09/08/2016 | 19:58

Michael Murphy is almost the perfect player.

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Physically strong, mobile, an engine that sees him move between a host of positions throughout a game without seeming to tire and a dead eyed accuracy from placed balls are qualities that make him one of football's most admired stars.

But there is one crucial tool missing from his toolbox and for a man in his position, it is particularly harmful - he doesn't score from play.

That isn't meant as slight or an attempt to kick a man after he has exited the championship after a poor display - it is merely a fact.

After Donegal were beaten by Dublin in last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final, many observers remarked upon Murphy's subdued performance.

Granted, the quality of ball kicked in his direction was awful but for the fourth time in six championship games in 2016, the Donegal skipper was held scoreless from play, meaning only two points from his overall tally weren't from frees this year.

Murphy's health was held up as a mitigating factor this season - that may be true of 2016, but what about every other year?

In truth, what is alarming from a Donegal perspective isn't that Murphy had such a poor season from open field - it is that such a paltry return has become the norm for the two-time All Star.

Since Jim McGuinness' first championship game in charge of Donegal in 2011, Murphy has played 35 championship matches for his county.

The most he has scored from play in one season is six points (0-6 in 2014 and 1-3 in 2013). Michael Murphy has averaged 0.8 points from play per championship game (1-25 in total) in the last six seasons.

Read that number again - it is staggering.

And while Murphy has kicked 1-81 from dead balls over the same time frame, it doesn't excuse his poor return from play.

Over the same period, Bernard Brogan has averaged 3.3 points from play per game. Colm Cooper (2.9), Cillian O'Connor (1.9) and Conor McManus (1.7) are just three more top forwards who outrank Murphy when it comes to contributions from play.

It is a bit unfair comparing the Donegal man's scoring output to the aforementioned quartet since they often play the entire game close to goal.

However, when you consider that Aidan O'Shea (1.0 point from play per game) and Kieran Donaghy (1.2 per game) have also outscored Murphy while similarly shuttling between midfield and the full forward line, then serious questions need to be asked about his performance.

The problem is a combination of Murphy not being at his best, him regularly moving position and a game plan that obviously isn't maximising his potential.

The fact that Paul Flynn, a forward known more for his work-rate and link play rather than his scoring, has doubled Murphy's output from play since 2011 (1.6 per game v 0.8) is another damning statistic.

Murphy's only goal from play in the championship in the last five is what stops even more criticism coming his way.

The Donegal captain plucking the ball from the air against Mayo and rupturing the net with a rocket encapsulated the skills that the most idealistic Gaelic football fans hold dear.

The image of that score from the 2012 All-Ireland final is burnt into the brain of everyone who was privileged enough to have witnessed it.

But that glorious goal came almost four years ago. It is time for Murphy to start making new memories like that.

This isn't to discount all his other contributions - he often owns midfield, regularly gives his team-mates handy assists, kicks a lot of frees and can break out of a double team like almost nobody else.

Paddy McBrearty (1.5 points from play per game) is one player who has benefited from playing alongside Murphy.

But his forward rivals make most of those aforementioned contributions AND score regularly from play.

It is about time that Murphy adds that string to his bow because until he does, Donegal will struggle to reach the heights of 2012 again.

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