murphy's pivotal strike
A FORTNIGHT before the All-Ireland final, Michael Murphy sat down at his laptop and hammered out three pages of a winning captain's speech.
He got through it as quickly as possible, gritting his teeth and wincing during the whole process, acutely aware that he was tempting fate. Still, he knew it had to be done.
Later that evening, Murphy handed the pages to Donegal's kit-man Michael McMenamin and thought no more about them.
In the end he got to deliver every word of that speech. Having sacrificed his natural game for the good of the Donegal team, toiling around midfield all summer, he changed tack for the third Sunday of September and took up position on the edge of the square. There, young Kevin Keane, not Ger Cafferkey, who had silenced Kieran Donaghy in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, was waiting.
Sure it was all the one who they put on him.
With almost three minutes gone, Karl Lacey gathered the ball and flirted with knifing through the Mayo defence before instead arrowing a beautiful, angled delivery towards Murphy in front of the Mayo goal.
Murphy plucked the ball from the skies, above the arms of Keane, and almost turned to his left in mid-air, pivoting further when he landed. Showing massive strength, he fended Keane off with one arm and pulled the trigger as he swivelled, unleashing a thunderbolt from his right boot.
Mayo's 'keeper David Clarke, well on top of his game after his heroics against Dublin's Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly in the semi-final, had no hope of stopping it. Murphy didn't take time to hop or solo, so Clarke hadn't even a second to set himself.
He simply threw a despairing hand in the air as the ball rasped past him with venom.
From there Mayo were breaking sweat just to keep up with the Ulstermen as they roared into an early, commanding lead.
James Horan's men did fight until the end but Murphy's goal simply destroyed their battle plan which was devised around forcing Donegal to open up and chase the game. In essence, that score clinched the title. There were many good goals during the season but none as important – or on a bigger stage – than Michael Murphy's.
He may have cringed writing that speech, but he followed the script to a T.