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Michael Murphy and Donegal ready for Dublin examination

James Small, Dublin, in action against Michael Murphy, Donegal. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

James Small, Dublin, in action against Michael Murphy, Donegal. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE


If Donegal had a Mount Rushmore then Michael Murphy would surely be carved in granite near its peak.

He would probably be along with Anthony Molloy, Brian McEniff, Jim McGuinness and Martin McHugh as five immortal icons.

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26 year-old Murphy is the current King of the Hills and is any manager’s dream.

Unfailingly polite and always on message he has the pleasant, calming demeanor of a mannerly young man who would have your daughter home from the debs ball in good time.

But interviewing sometimes is a bit like trying to play handball against a haystack, and this is no reflection on one of Nature’s gentlemen.

But there is also a Fomorian fierceness, a ferocious force of nature behind some of the soothing replies, as he sits tall, wide and lean before journos desperately hoping for something illuminating at the press morning in Donegal town.

For this is also the big man whose tackling is like getting hit by a train, according to Kerry legend Tomas O’Se…and Tomas would know.

Michael Murphy has always preferred to do his talking on the pitch and is also a huge voice in the Donegal dressing room.

Sometimes it is forgotten that Murphy is one of the few, if not only men to captain his county to three Ulster titles an All-Ireland title and an All-Ireland runners up.

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But when a microphone is put before the Glenswilly giant he can churn out the well rehearsed clichés with the best.

His tone is always respectful and that is entirely in keeping with his own persona.

On this morning there is a bit of a focus on a Murphy as a player who has not been really “at himself” this season and that he is not being played enough at full-forward where he is at his most lethal.

Team manager Rory Gallagher is well used to these queries.

“We are very fortunate with Michael, he wears No 14 on his back but it is no more than some of our players wear different numbers and play in different positions.

“Michael would see himself as a footballer capable of playing anywhere, maybe not suited to the full-backline, apart from that I think he can play everywhere.

“He has great strength inside and I thought him and Patrick worked very well together in the first half.

“He will spend periods in and periods out just like all the other games”.

But Murphy was not surprised in the slightest by Paddy McBrearty’s stunning display against Cork last Saturday, a performance that took some of the weight from his gargantuan shoulders.

“Paddy has been doing this now for quite some time and he always has it in his locker to do that, the speed, the power and we would not swap him for the world.

“What he can do with a football and he was very sharp last Saturday night, but he has been doing it with us all the time in training, and he is one of those players you look at and respect him and he has so much football under his belt for such a very young age”.

But Murphy does not hide his genuine enthusiasm for playing Dublin in Croke Park before a full house.

“The Quarter-Final is now a full house in Croke Park and a huge stage that every player will have dreamt of since they were young.

“You feel nervous before such a big occasion and that is a part of it and individually you want to bring your best game and collectively also.

“We know what we have to bring and we have trained pretty well this week and knowing that there brings some comfort.

“But the challenge lies in knowing that we have bring that for over 70 minutes”.

When is suggested by James McCartan and James Horan in recent times that his movement is not quite the same he gently demurs.

For Murphy has hit only two points from play in this year’s championship, which is pretty remarkable by his exceptionally high standards.

“I am gradually getting there as the year goes on and I am trying to perform a lot better and do my job for the team.

“It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for us having got to the Ulster final and got beaten.

“Every day I got out and train and try to get fitter and try and get sharper and hope to do that for the Dublin match.

“It’s a huge day against Dublin”.

So is he only catching up after an earlier niggling leg injury?

“Not a bit.

“I am in good shape and I am confident myself that I am in good shape and I am injury free which is a huge part of it.

“I have got a good bit of training am totally injury free and I am feeling well, but I will leave everyone else to analyze how I am moving”.

And he is so polite, that this is a near as we get to the mildest of ironic rebukes.

He is then pressed on the dangers of possible burnout as he has been around this Donegal squad since 2007 and only turned 27 yesterday.

“This is not something I really think about, I am still just 26 and hope I have another few years left” he says with a soft laugh.

But sometimes even hardened hacks forget that this is a man who has been Donegal’s Rock of Ages arguably since as far back as 2010.

And he has captained his county to an All-Ireland title three Ulster titles and an All-Ireland final appearance by the relatively tender age of 25.

“Don’t be writing the obituaries for another wee while”.

And manager Rory Gallagher then intervenes to say;

“I think it is crazy that people get a notion and it develops and develops.

“Michael is in great condition, absolutely great condition and is moving really well.

“Yes he had an ankle injury but he has a far volume of training.

“I think that people look for things that aren’t there sometimes.

“If you compare it to other sports, you see Lionel Messi what age is he playing from?

“Look at John O’Shea of Sunderland he has been playing for Man Utd since he was 17.

“Michael knows how to look after his body no more so than other people.

“He is playing a long time, but I am pretty sure he intends playing a lot longer.

So what does a “revitalized” Murphy and Co need to do to beat Dublin.

“There are two main things, we know from our defence that they bring an attacking presence throughout the field.

“If you look at their six forwards, they are as potent as you will get anywhere in the country.

“Their defence attacks with real vigour.

“We need to be on top of your game and stop them scoring.

“But more importantly you need to take the game to them as well and you need to get scores.

“What happens in a lot of these games, is that you can’t go for long periods without scoring.

“Those are the two main areas and we have worked hard on various moves to make that happen over the past year.

“That is something we came up short on last year and it is something we need to address this year as a group of players”.

And, like his manager Murphy believes Donegal can beat the Dubs.

“You would not be sitting here if you thought you could not beat them.

“But you must keep the scoreboard ticking over and keep their scores down.

“And it is as simple as that and that is what our focus will be on when we don’t have the ball defensively and offensively to try and be as potent as possible”.

And despite some rumours of his demise, Michael Murphy could be a bit like an unexploded bomb that could scatter the Dubs.

Let’s hope for some real fireworks, from the soft- spoken man who still has all the Fomorian fierceness of the old Tir Chonaill warriors and the mien of an absolute gentleman.

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