Murphy eyes next turn on road to redemption
Ulster glory can lift Donegal gloom for Glenswilly star
DEFYING the bookies by winning Sunday's AIB Ulster Club SFC final with Glenswilly would go a long way towards exorcising the demons of 2013 for Donegal superstar Michael Murphy.
He was reluctant to use the 'r-word' himself yesterday, but when 'redemption' was mentioned he admitted it was pretty appropriate.
"That week in August when we got beat by Mayo, you were looking back on the year as a failure and you were thinking that there is nothing that can pick you up from that," he conceded.
"But then you go and play (International Rules) with Ireland, which was a great boost, and then we managed to win a club championship and go on this run. That's definitely been a fantastic lift.
"If it happened again on Sunday, you would say 'redeemed' is a good word."
If Donegal have had a roller-coaster ride in the past two seasons -- from the All-Ireland high of 2012 to last summer's mystifying collapse -- so too has Murphy's club.
They have gone from Donegal's junior ranks to become senior county champions twice in the past three years and now face the biggest day in their history: Sunday's Ulster final in Omagh against Derry giants Ballinderry.
It's only eight years since Glenswilly won the Donegal intermediate title, when they also reached the Ulster intermediate final. Murphy was only a kid back then but his precocious talent and stature was already evident -- he was only 15 when he came off the bench in that provincial final against Inniskeen of Monaghan.
"They got a last-minute sucker-punch of a goal and went on to win that year in Croke Park, it was always a regret," he said.
But things had finally taken off for Glenswilly, founded in 1982 and just 10 minutes from Letterkenny, yet remaining what Murphy describes as "your stereotypical, rural, country club in terms of having a couple of pubs, a church and a small newsagents."
In only their second year in the senior ranks Glenswilly reached the 2007 county final but got a trimming from local rivals and 'townies' St Eunan's.
"It was much too soon for us, we got beat quite comprehensively and it took us a right while to get over that," Murphy recalled.
But in 2011, with a new management led by local teacher Gary McDaid and Murphy kicking 1-7 of their 1-8 in the county final, Glenswilly went all the way. They even beat Cavan Gaels on their maiden voyage in the Ulster club championship before bowing out to Latton.
Their future looked bright but, like Donegal this summer, having scaled the mountain, Glenswilly promptly rolled all the way back down it.
"We got relegated last year and then knocked out in the first or second round of the championship, it was a complete disaster," Murphy added.
"It was hard. Gary had left when he had a family and a new-born, a few lads went travelling and there was probably a few more excuses made than the year before.
"We were at a low ebb after getting relegated. We had done so much to get to where we were and were a bit disappointed at the way it petered out.
"But this year everyone said they'd come back and give it a rattle again and Gary and his management team came back again too."
Murphy described Sunday's final as "a bit surreal".
In the autumn of 2009, he and neighbour/clubmate James McDaid took to driving to Fermanagh every Sunday morning to watch the progress of the Ulster club championship.
"We'd be watching Crossmaglen and Ballinderry and all those teams, laughing and joking, saying 'imagine if we were heading out with them on an Ulster club day up here, wouldn't that be hilarious!"
Glenswilly are only the fourth Donegal club after Glenties (2010), Killybegs (1991) and St Joseph's (1975, '73 and 68) to contest an Ulster final -- and only St Joseph's were successful in '75.
Glenswilly also feature Neil Gallagher and Gary McFadden of the Donegal seniors, former county players in Ciaran Bonner and Colin Kelly and a solid full-back in Monaghan native and local vet Eamonn Ward.
And while Murphy rates his club as "extreme underdogs" against a side that won the All-Ireland in 2002 and is littered with current and former Derry seniors, he says that Donegal's success in 2012 has given local clubs some new-found confidence.
"There's maybe a bit more belief because you're playing alongside or against or sharing a workplace with someone that's managed to win the All-Ireland. That gives a bit of belief to all the club teams, I think."