Martin Breheny: Donegal begin mind games for Ulster quarter-final with claims of Murphy targeting
Donegal have begun the mind games ahead of the Ulster quarter-final clash with Armagh on June 14 by claiming that Michael Murphy is not getting the protection he deserves.
It comes following Justin McMahon's limpet-like marking of Murphy on Sunday.
McMahon was within touching distance of Murphy for virtually the full game, frequently turning his back on the play to ensure that he knew where the Donegal captain was at all times.
It worked well for Tyrone as Murphy had a quiet game in general play, but held his nerve from placed balls, kicking three crucial points in the last quarter.
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher later talked about the treatment Murphy encounters on a regular basis.
"Michael comes in for a lot of attention off the ball, which isn't allowed," he said.
Despite that, Gallagher wasn't critical of referee Joe McQuillan.
However, his highlighting of what he perceives as unfair treatment for the influential Glenswilly man won't go unnoticed in Armagh where it will be regarded as special pleading before the big clash in the Athletic Grounds.
"I felt that while the officials did a good job, Michael was targeted. That's the way it is. It is up to other people to deal with it," said Gallagher.
Murphy's colleagues, Neil McGee and Ryan McHugh, also commented on how opposition deal with Murphy.
"He took a lot of abuse (today). If I was doing it, would I get away with it? He's up there with the best and it's up to the rest of us to give him more protection," said McGee.
He also suggested that because of Murphy's big stature, he's expected to take whatever comes his way.
"He is seen to be able to take it. There needs to be a bit more consistency. He's suffering because he is so physical," said the full-back.
McHugh said that Murphy "gets it tough every time he goes out" and has come to expect it. Referring to last Sunday, the Donegal wing-back said: "It's not easy having a man running around all day after you."
However, he sees no respite for Murphy.
"Michael will have to get used to that because he is one of the top players in Ireland and he's going to get it most days he goes out," said McHugh.
Ironically, McMahon scored a point from open play while Murphy's three points came from frees (2) and a '45. McMahon's opportunity arose in the 20th minute when he followed Murphy deep into Donegal territory and pounced on a breaking ball after Peter Harte's goal effort had been blocked.
Mickey Harte had identified the need to prevent Murphy from imposing himself on the game as a key priority for Tyrone.
McMahon's 'policing' of Murphy was similar to how Kerry dealt with his threat in last year's All-Ireland final when Aidan O'Mahony was never more than inches away from him.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney is likely to deploy a similar strategy next month, which probably explains why Donegal management and players were keen to raise the legality of McMahon's marking.
They will be hoping that by implying that unfair tactics are being used against Murphy, it may draw a sympathetic response from the referee.
McQuillan saw nothing wrong with McMahon's approach on Sunday until the 63rd minute when he booked the Tyrone No 6, which drew ironic cheers from the Donegal crowd.
McGee's claim that Murphy doesn't always get the protection he deserves because of his physical stature is a view frequently espoused in Donegal, where it's felt that he has no choice but to look after himself.
Murphy was sent off twice on black cards in this year's league.
He spent much of Sunday's game a long way from the Tyrone goal as part of a strategy that was central to the approach adopted by Jim McGuinness and has been carried on by Gallagher.
It has restricted Murphy's scoring return, despite being one of the best finishers in the game.
He has scored only seven points from open play in his last 10 championship games and hasn't scored a goal since the early stages of the 2012 All-Ireland final against Mayo.
However, he remains the most important Donegal player as the attention he attracts from the opposition leaves openings for his colleagues, while his reliability from placed balls remains as consistent as ever, as demonstrated in the closing stages last Sunday.
"He showed his leadership qualities and his quality in general with the '45 and the frees," said McHugh.
Now, attention will turn to who is appointed to referee the Ulster quarter-final after Donegal's none-too-subtle attempts to create the impression that Murphy is being unfairly targeted.
McQuillan refereed the Donegal-Armagh All-Ireland quarter-final last August, but it's highly unlikely that he will be appointed for two successive Ulster games involving the defending champions.