Sunday 15 December 2019

'We're just focused on winning... not legacy'

Murphy confident Donegal ready to avenge last year's Ulster final defeat to Monaghan

Michael Murphy goes through his paces at Dublin’s National Athlete Development Academy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Michael Murphy goes through his paces at Dublin’s National Athlete Development Academy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Michael Murphy doesn't remember his first trip to Croke Park but it will remain in his bones for all time.

For, had he not made that initial journey with his parents, Mick and Mary, for the 1990 semi-final defeat to Meath, his next visit there this summer would be in civilian clothes, not Tir Chonaill green and gold.

Murphy was born with a damaged hip that necessitated remedial surgery which, had it not been initiated before his third birthday, could conceivably have scarred him for life; certainly, it would have thieved any of the sporting ambitions that bit him before he could run.

He remembers those dreamy childhood goals, mind; he has fulfilled and lived them, too, both for Glenswilly, his club, and Donegal, his county, coursing a third Ulster title in four years this Sunday against Monaghan.

But Murphy can't conceive of a time when he toddled about his Bomany house, flopping from side to side; at first, the vista attracted curiosity from the aunts and uncles who used to visit Mick and Mary's first and only child; concern soon supplanted curiosity.

His hip was out of place, it was divined. He would need an operation sooner, rather than later. Donegal's appearance in their fourth All-Ireland semi-final in 1990 allowed the family to ink an appointment with the Mater on the following Monday.

Despite a grim day against battle-hardened Meath, the Murphys drove for home on Tuesday morning after the successful operation in optimistic fettle.

Donegal were closer to an All-Ireland than the Murphys suspected; they didn't know it then, but they were also carrying home a future All-Ireland winning captain. He has no memories of those days in the house as a toddler, only those bequeathed to him by relatives.

"I was only one or two when they all noticed a small limp," he says as a smile curdles with the recollection.


"And I was limping in my left foot, up on my toe I used to be all the time. The parents had spotted it as well and then the aunts and uncles would be in, they noticed I was up on one leg more than another.

"And then after the operation, I was in a cast for a year or two. I used to batter about anyway I could. I couldn't walk, the cast had to be re-set a few times. But you're a wee child, what else are you going to do? You're always going to walk about if you can try."

The family would return to Dublin for Donegal's emotional success in 1992 but Murphy was still but a child; his memories were formed later in the decade as he followed his parents around the country, following club and country.

He wore the routine of matches like a suit of clothes, so much so that when you look beyond the childlike jowls of this beastly built 25-year-old, you can taste a tinge of envy at the freedom enjoyed by the thrumming Clones crowd this Sunday.

"Parking the car on the side you come in from. Always on the Donegal side. Always a grass verge. Meeting other Donegal fellas and you could have been battering away against them the previous week for the club," he says.

"Having your tea and sandwiches. Putting on your headband and flags. You pick out your player. The 2003 run ... that quarter-final replay against Galway in Castlebar when everything came together. Then losing the semi to Armagh. They were very close that day ...

"Always looking at players you try to model bits and pieces on ... Brendan Devenny such an exciting player, speed and drive, Adrian Sweeney ... Colm McFadden. Always picking up bits and pieces ... Michael Hegarty, what a great playmaker."

Now Murphy is the centrepiece of a team that have forged new legends; last year was, they hope, a blip in a cycle of relentless achievement. He refutes suggestions that Monaghan provided an "ambush" last season and hence must re-prove their credentials. Donegal's focus is within and, they also hope, less convulsive than it has been in recent times.

"It's very difficult," he says of a turbulent 2013 campaign whose fallout spilled into this calendar year. "You're prepared to be damned for everything, especially for falling behind or any eventuality. But then you fall behind, it seems that the harder and harder you try, sometimes it's very difficult to stem the flow.

"You chat about these scenarios, try to figure out plans and sometimes it doesn't happen.

"We never thought we were as good as all that the previous year when we won the title. Even when we won the All-Ireland, it wasn't one of our better performances. We were blown up to being the absolute."

There are suggestions that Donegal, to protect and expand their legacy, must strike this year or Jim McGuinness' hold may weaken in tandem with strengthened professional commitments. Murphy demurs.

"You don't think about these things, it's not worth expending energy on it. Jim is there now, he's Donegal manager. He loves Donegal football, he's an absolute credit and we're extremely fortunate to have him, with his expertise and knowledge and passion for the game.

"We hope to have Jim for ever and ever. I'm just a player and we have a great bond with him, a good friendship with him. He's a very good man. Whatever he decides to do will be outside our remit.

"We don't worry about the legacy. You're so immersed in the day-to-day that you don't have any time to wallow in the legacy, to comprehend it. We're just immersing ourselves in playing and winning."

It is a defiance which has, it appears, been in his bones for all of time.

  • Under Armour ambassador Michael Murphy was at Dublin's National Athlete Development Academy to learn about the benefits of Under Armour's HeatGear® technology. For further information log on to

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