Tuesday 20 March 2018

Horrors of 2013 driving us on, reveals Donegal star Murphy

Surrendering Ulster and All-Ireland titles with little more than a whimper was a low point for Glenswilly man

Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy

Chris McNulty

THE Ulster Championship has always been a part of Michael Murphy's summers.

He recalls sitting in the Gerry Arthurs Stand at St Tiernach's Park in Clones when he was eight and watching, from a spot on the 13-metre line, as Geoffrey McGonagle nudged Noel McGinley aside to set up Joe Brolly for a goal that snatched the Anglo Celt Cup from beneath Donegal's nostrils.

Donegal's famine went on until 2011 when Murphy moved from the audience to the stage, scoring a penalty as Donegal overcame Derry to become kings of Ulster.

From a young age, Murphy made his way to the highways and byways of Ulster with his parents, Mick and Mary.

"1998 was a bad day at the office," he says. It was a quiet trip home that day."

The young Murphy was a regular at Donegal games and carried with him an autograph book. After every game, he went in search of a new scribble.

His diet was Gaelic football.

In the winter of 2006, after playing a lead role in Donegal's Ulster Minor League and Championship double-winning team earlier in the year, he was visiting his grandfather Joe Hutchinson in Buncrana when a strange number flashed on his phone. Brian McIver was tipped off by selector Francie Martin – who was managing Murphy's club, Glenswilly, at the time – about a youngster filled with promise.

McIver took a punt. "They started training early that year and I was down with the senior panel in Castlefin that January," says Murphy.

"It was dream come true to play – or pretend I was playing – with the Donegal senior team.

"He put his neck out on the line with a young fella who was 17 and a lot of people would've been taking strange looks. Fair play to him."

Murphy and Donegal fell from the roof last year having been kings of the castle in 2012.

They lost hold of the Anglo Celt and Sam Maguire within the space of three weeks last summer. It hurt Donegal and Murphy felt the pang deeply and he's got redemption in mind as he prepares to face Derry and former manager McIver on Sunday.

He says: "I'd be lying if I said that we've just forgotten last year.

"Without doubt it was disappointing the way it happened. It has given us an extra wee bit of motivation. There was a lot said and written about our lack of competitiveness and we had big defeats in the Ulster final and All-Ireland quarter-final. That does add to our motivation. We feel that we're in a much better place now.

"We want to do our talking on the pitch this year. There was a lot of talk last year and even this year there have been a lot of references to last year and what happened. We have to take it on the chin and we have to live in the present. We want to grasp every opportunity available."

Captaining Donegal is something that sits well with Murphy. The role is something he doesn't take lightly. As captain, he's won an All-Ireland, two Ulster Championships and a Division 2 League. Murphy has faced Derry five times in the Championship. As another Ulster campaign looms, he outlines the esteem in which the Ulster Championship is held in Tir Chonaill.

He says: "We've been brought up with the Ulster Championship. The players went with their mothers and fathers or with their clubs on a bus to watch these games. There's always something special about Ulster venues in the championship.

"Of course, you love Croke Park, but first and foremost, this is it.

"It took us a long time to get over the line in 2011 and we managed to get another then. We're mad for another one.

"You need to dream big, yeah, of course you do, but in Ulster football you've to keep your mind on the game of the time too."

Irish Independent

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