BY CHRIS MCNULTY
MICHAEL Murphy bears the look of the stereotypical student these days but, with another college year drawing to a close, the Glenswilly man’s mind is beginning to take a wander towards a date in the distance.
That isn’t May 20th for the Donegal captain, but June 16th – and a possible Ulster quarter-final with Derry in Ballybofey. A knee ligament injury will prevent Murphy from taking his place in the Donegal side for the May 20th preliminary round meeting with Cavan – but neither that nor college pressures have derailed him from being a part of Donegal’s preparations for that Breffni Park date.
The bearded Murphy (22) says the facial hair isn’t a signal that Donegal are going down the road of Ryan McMenamin and Tyrone in 2008 when the whiskered Red Hands packed away the razors until Sam Maguire was captured that September.
“It’s exam time, it’s pressure time, it’s all go,” explains Murphy, who is coming to the end of his third year in DCU next week.
“It’s been helter-skelter, but that’s the joys of it.”
Murphy’s year has been more stop than start with a Gilmore’s Groin injury hampering the early part, before he sustained damage to his collateral knee ligament during the National League defeat to Dublin in Croke Park.
It had been hoped that he’d be fit in time to face Cavan. Still under an intensive rehab programme under surgeon Ray Moran, from the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, Murphy had expressed optimism after Donegal’s final League win over Armagh in Ballybofey that he’d be back for Breffni.
While the crutches have been discarded, May 20th will come too quickly.
“I was just hopeful at that time. I was maybe tricking myself into believing…I had consultation with the specialist every couple of weeks since that,” said Murphy.
“As the weeks have gone on it’s been about trying to strike a balance between pushing it on and giving it time to heal. We felt it was very risky pushing it for the Cavan game. It’s unfortunate, but everything that could be done was done. The game will just come too soon.
“It was disappointing to come back from injury and be hit with another one straight away. It’s never ideal as a sportsman and the timing of it isn’t too helpful either.
“I’ve just had to come to terms with it and get stuck into the rehab. It’s been progressing very, very well and the check-ups have all been good.
“I’m working hard trying to get back stronger and fitter – and hopefully that will be the case.
“It’s a disaster for any sportsman, especially as a Gaelic footballer when the evenings get longer, the pitches get harder – that’s where you want to be. It’s frustrating, but you have to keep encouraging the rest of the boys.”
He’s out cycling now in the next phase of his recover, but is still around four weeks away from running. Still, he’s pretty much been an ever-present at training sessions.
The captain leads by example.
He said: “I get up as much as possible. The last couple of weeks in college have been very busy, but I’ve managed to juggle it and I’ll be up for them all now coming up to the game.
“I’m trying to keep in as good a shape as is possible. It’s very tough when you’re not out on the field.
“It is tough, but you’d be very selfish if you started sulking around the place – and Jim wouldn’t let you do that anyway!
“I just try to keep encouraging and pushing the boys on as much as possible because they’re going to be in the squad to do a job against Cavan.
“I’ll be there rooting for the boys and hoping all goes well.
“Hopefully I’ll get a couple of games with Glenswilly and if I’m selected – whether it be against Derry or, God forbid, the qualifiers. I just want to get it right and stay on the field for a long period this time.”
Murphy has some painful memories of Breffni Park. The 2010 All-Ireland U21 final will forever haunt, while last year he was sent off, wrongly, against Cavan in the Ulster senior quarter-final – a card that was subsequently rescinded.
He said: “Last year didn’t go to plan, I didn’t last too many minutes and unfortunately I’m not going to get on it at all this year now. I just have to keep the head down and plough away.
“It has been stop-start. One year ran into another there. I was lucky to have a prolonged season with the club after winning the Donegal championship. Then I was away with Ireland in the International Rules and had everything at college too. Whether you put it down to overuse or just a bit of bad luck, I don’t know, but unfortunately one injury had just cleared when I got injured against Dublin.”
Murphy is cautiously playing down the fact that Donegal enter the summer as defending Ulster champions. The team to beat in many eyes, but within camp Tir Chonaill there isn’t even the slightest air of complacency.
Murphy said: “I wouldn’t say that teams are chasing us. We still have a hell of a lot of things to work on in relation to our own game. The games last year and in the League have shown that.
“We’d be foolish to say that teams are trying to chase us – we’re definitely looking to really get up there and compete week-in, week-out. We’re working on that every day we get out on the training pitch.
“People will look at us as Ulster Champions, but we had an indifferent League campaign. Thankfully we overcame Armagh to maintain Division 1 status and we’ve got to blood some young players which has been pleasing. New managers are in place in different counties and every team will be pushing hard.
“It would be wrong for us to look past Cavan. They’ll have all guns blazing in Breffni with a new manager. They also have a minor championship in their back pockets from last year, as well as a couple of Under 21 titles. This is a good test – but you need good tests if you want to win things.”