BY LIAM PORTER
A DONEGAL match these days just wouldn’t be the same without the Donegal piper, Christy Murray – but when the county team take to the pitch this weekend against Cork – fans should take a moment to thank one forlorn Dublin piper who sparked it all off years ago.
Because, said Christy, it was a forlorn piper from the capital trudging his way out from a single-point defeat by Donegal in Ballyshannon in the late 1990s that gave him the idea of bringing his pipes to a game.
“I’ve been following Donegal since I first went to an U21 game in the 1980s and it kind of grew from there, but the bagpipes idea came when I saw a sorry-looking Dublin supporter leaving a game in Ballyshannon. I thought to myself, I could so do that – and I could do it better and that set the seed.”
For the first game he played his pipes without a uniform in a game against Armagh and he was amazed at the reaction, from children especially.
He then purchased a uniform in Donegal colours from a famous uniform-seller in Cullybacky in Unionist heartland who found it all very amusing, and once kitted out he took the pipes and headed off to the games again.
“I teach music in schools and some of the children began to recognise me and then they were asking if I’d be at the next game and from there my profile began to grow.”
Of course Christy is possibly more famous across the county for his tin whistle playing than the bagpipes and it is the whistle he teaches to hundreds of children in schools in Donegal.
But for the Donegal Piper Christy, match days have now become a fairly set ritual.
“I try to arrive nice and early and go around some of the pubs to get the fans stirred up, usually about an hour before the game I’ll go around the perimeter of the pitch and with about a half an hour to go I’ll make my way into the stands.”
With a good repertoire of Donegal tunes Christy says Donegal fans have always been brilliant, but he says the reaction he gets from the opposition has usually been superb too.
“I got attacked once, at a Louth game and that was just a malicious attack and once or twice things have happened but usually because there has been drink involved, that said by and large opposition supporters are brilliant and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.”
To help endear him to the opposition though, the Donegal Piper will always have a tune from their county in his armory on match day as well.
When the match is on the pipes usually go under the seat, but when half-time arrives they are back out again.
“Sometimes I get on to the pitch at half-time, and if I get on usually they let me stay on.”
While he’s still hoping to get a chance to play on the hallowed turf at Croke Park, Christy buzzes from the memory of being on the pitch in Clones after the Ulster Final wins for the last two years.”
“Last year’s victory was such a monkey off Donegal’s back and because I was well-known people were asking me to play – even during the speeches – there was such a good feeling, that was such a great weekend.”
The atmosphere for that weekend had already been cranked up the night before says Christy at a fantastic session in Clones where he and his daughter played for Derry, Donegal and Monaghan supporters.
But of course the best moment of the weekend came when Michael Murphy lifted the Anglo Celt Cup and for a supporter who has been following Donegal for so long, it was a proud moment indeed.
That it was repeated this year was even more special says Christy who is such a big hit with the Donegal fans now, that every game he goes to, fans ask to have photos taken with him.
But while he enjoys the banter, Christy is first and foremost a fan himself and like every other Donegal supporter he was on the edge of his seat in those final few minutes for the quarter-final win against Kerry.
“I think Donegal has had good teams over the last twenty years, but with this team it’s the psychology, it’s the never-say-die attitude that they have that makes the difference.”
He is full of praise for the Donegal manager Jim McGuinness for bringing that to the team.
“There are a lot of young players on there and how Jim McGuinness has instilled that sense of belief in them is amazing. It is a joy to watch.”
Indeed he is so proud of the team’s achievements that Christy hopes everybody stays on Sunday, irrespective of the outcome to let the team see how much their efforts over the past two seasons have meant to supporters.
“What they have achieved in such a short time frame has been amazing and I think it is only right that we acknowledge that. When I pipe now I think it is just an extension of what the team is doing, if I have to pipe for three hours it is not a bother, I think I’m just part of a bigger team.”
Come Sunday Christy will be swirling the pipes again and urging Donegal on to victory.
For another seventy minutes at least, playing them for Donegal in an all-Ireland final, will remain just a pipe dream