Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 13 December 2019

Colm Keys: One man show

Michael Murphy leads his Donegal team-mates
in the parade before last year's win over Kildare
– it will be interesting to see how they cope
without the injured star against Cavan tomorrow
Michael Murphy leads his Donegal team-mates in the parade before last year's win over Kildare – it will be interesting to see how they cope without the injured star against Cavan tomorrow
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Michael Murphy can't do without Donegal. He tells you that without a hint of equivocation.

So much so, that he could never see himself living anywhere else. At 22, his travels are over, not that they ever brought him too far.

The end of his studies in DCU have returned him to where he is most comfortable. Home.

"Moving to Dublin to get through a college course was a big enough move," says arguably football's brightest talent.

"I'm a home bird. I enjoy playing with the club, enjoy playing with the county. I like that and that's where I see my future.

"Job or no job, that might not be a nice thing to say with the times that are in it, but I'll be going back home. As close to Glenswilly direction as I possibly can."

Don't mention Australia so. He was the object of advances from a number of clubs through the Ricky Nixon agency three years ago, but resisted them all.


"It just wasn't for me. It wouldn't have tickled my fancy. Living the life of a professional footballer would have been slightly attractive. It's something you would look to do here if you could. Obviously, it will never happen."

As much as Murphy can't do without Donegal though, Donegal can't do without him even more.

Right now there is probably no player more influential for his team than Michael Murphy.

That's a big statement when you think of who is around. Bernard Brogan and Dublin, Colm Cooper and Kerry, Niall McNamee and Offaly, Paddy Keenan and Louth.

But if there was a measurement to gauge a footballer's ability to his team, incorporating their realistic ambitions and the level they are at, then Murphy is that player.

The argument is not made on the basis that Murphy is a better player than Gooch, Brogan -- or Declan O'Sullivan, for that matter. At the moment he is not.

But if any player is to go close to doing what Maurice Fitzgerald did in 1997 and influence an All-Ireland win with his individual brilliance, then that man will be Murphy over the next three years.

He has already gone so close to doing so with the Donegal U-21s in the 2010 All-Ireland championship, while his feats with his club Glenswilly brought them their first ever county senior title last year.

Donegal boss Jim McGuinness may argue differently of course. At least in public. The need to extol the virtues of a team is paramount to every manager.

And Murphy is essentially more comfortable as a team man than an individual. It was why, at only 21, McGuinness made the decision to make Murphy his captain, an honour he retains into this season and, in all probability, for as long as the manager is there.

It was why he quite willingly played according to instruction for much of last season, becoming a domestique to drop deep and hunt when he had to for the good of the team's defensive orientation. Only on occasion did he play in an orthodox full-forward role.

That seemed to catch up with Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin last August when he, perhaps, played too deep and Colm McFadden was left in isolation for almost all of the game.

In the run up to that match, however, McGuinness was taken with the explosive nature of Murphy's runs from midfield and planned accordingly to what he saw on the training field.

Donegal have already had an insight into how Murphy makes them tick by his absence in two crucial periods of the league.

He missed the opening two games with a groin injury and triggered an exchange between McGuinness and DCU manager Niall Moyna at the start of the season.

Donegal lost those games to Down and Laois, but on his return for the visit of Cork, his superb early goal after just 14 seconds immediately underlined his value on the way to a four-point win.

Those type of goals are fast becoming Murphy's trademark. You won't see a better catch, turn and strike than the goal he scored in last year's groundbreaking county final against St Michael's.

The Derry manager John Brennan was still seething long after Murphy had climbed above two defenders in their 2011 league match on the the way to yet another breathtaking goal.

His current knee injury -- ruling him out of tomorrow's Ulster championship preliminary round tie against Cavan in Kingspan Breffni Park -- was sustained against Dublin at Croke Park in March, at a time when he was offering the only significant threat up front.

For one of his six points he chased Sean Murray, as the Dublin defender dribbled forward, claimed possession and effortlessly stroked over Donegal's seventh point of the night to reduce the gap to two.

When he was on the field Donegal could hope, when he wasn't, Dublin eased their way to a flattering nine-point victory.

A subsequent scope revealed sufficient damage to sideline him for a minimum of two months.

It's his third major injury in a short space of time, following on from the earlier groin complaint and a hip problem he had as an 18-year-old. Murphy concedes that overuse may have been an issue. After a long season with Donegal he got straight into club business and toured Australia with the Irish International Rules team.

His almost languid style is deceptive, as that point against Dublin reflected. He works as hard as anyone around the pitch.

There's an edge to his game too. He's a big target for opponents, but has shown determination not to be put off. According to Kevin Cassidy's contribution to the book on the Ulster championship last year, 'This Is Our Year', Murphy was one of the players who went to McGuinness with a view to creating a greater mental toughness after they watched a clip of trash-talking by an American Footballer.

His potential partnership with Paddy McBrearty -- which began to take root last year -- is exciting many in Donegal.

Last year Murphy may only have dipped his toes into the water as to what he can achieve as footballer.

To bring out the best in him, Donegal will need less of the team player and more of the individual, playing to his natural strength, which can carry his county a long way in the years ahead.

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