September 23, 2012
It’s All-Ireland final day in Croke Park and Gaelic football’s showpiece event has taken on an extra special meaning.
There was no Kerry for just the second time in eight years. Dublin had faltered, while Cork and Tyrone had regressed. Donegal faced Mayo in a game that guaranteed history. Either Mayo were finally going to break the curse (please!) or Donegal were going to claim just their second All-Ireland title, 20 years after their first.
Most All-Ireland finals are remembered for a moment. The key turning point that dictates where the match is won and lost.
In 2012, it took just two minutes and 25 seconds for that moment to arrive as Karl Lacey broke forward from centre-back before letting fly, long and high towards the full-forward line where Donegal captain, Michael Murphy, lay in wait.
The big Glenswilly man rose highest to claim the pass before holding off Kevin Keane and firing to the roof of the night.
Complete and utter destruction.
Murphy would finish with 1-4, a man of the match award and an All-Ireland medal. Not a bad return for the 22-year-old but not surprising either. Sure what else would you expect from the best footballer in Ireland?
Fast forward seven years and a soon-to-be-30 Murphy is still giving his all in search of a second Celtic Cross. Donegal came close in 2014 but it wasn’t to be and since then Dublin have taken over.
However, all is not lost because so long as Michael Murphy is around Donegal can win another All-Ireland.
Because Michael Murphy is the best footballer in Ireland.
This season saw Donegal ply their trade in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League after dropping down a tier in 2018.
Most expected them to jump straight back up, which they did. However, it wasn’t as smooth sailing as many had predicted. They lost back-to-back games midway through the campaign and promotion looked all but gone as Meath and Fermanagh picked up point after point.
The turning point came in Round Five when they welcomed Armagh to Ballybofey on a night that even the ducks wouldn’t have enjoyed.
Declan Bonner decided to shake things up on 23 minutes. In came Murphy for his first appearance of the season and therein lies the reason Donegal are going back to Division 1.
On the night, it could have gone either way but Donegal prevailed by a point with the difference being Murphy’s presence inside. They scored just 1-3 from play with their talisman hitting 1-2 and assisting the other.
He soon returned to the starting fold to run Cork riot on Leeside before helping his teammates swat aside the challenge of Kildare in the final round to clinch promotion.
I can hear you screaming at me!
“There’s another All-Ireland in Donegal but without Murphy, they’d still be in Division 2?”
Exactly! Because Michael Murphy is the best footballer in Ireland.
Donegal were out on Sunday for their first championship appearance of 2019.
Fermanagh lay in wait hoping to take down the Ulster Champions and make a statement just as they have done a year ago against Monaghan, however, it wasn’t to be despite them keeping the Tír Chonaill men scoreless for 18 minutes. Eventually, Donegal’s class shone through to set up a mouth-watering semi-final with Tyrone.
Jamie Brennan and Paddy McBrearty grabbed the headlines after scoring 0-9 between them. The two men were devastating inside and, at times, linked up beautifully with Murphy who played in the familiar ‘quarterback’ role that we are used to seeing him play more often than not.
It’s a role that no doubt suits the Glenswilly man given his size, power, footballing IQ, and ability to start moves and finish from distance. However, Donegal lack a certain edge with Murphy so withdrawn. There’s no panic in the opposition players, no consternation from the opposing fans. He’s out at midfield where his ability to really affect the game is negated. He’ll ensure you’re competitive but he won’t win you matches.
The most depressing sight on Sunday was seeing Fermanagh retreat into their defensive screen and leaving Donegal with no option but to play keep ball around their own 45-metre line. It wasn’t the brief moment of sheer negativity that was depressing but the fact that Donegal’s deepest man, their last defender essentially was Michael Murphy. At one point, even Sean Patton had overtaken him.
Donegal have the country’s most finely tuned, most suited to and most destructive full-forward at their disposal. Use him where best suits him. At number 14.
They also have two of the best corner forwards in Ireland there to feed off him. Imagine Michael Murphy spearheading an attack with Brennan and McBrearty hoovering up anything around him. It would cause chaos for teams. It could be devastating to watch.
I understand the argument that Donegal do not have the necessary weapons further out the field to allow Murphy to wreak havoc inside but it comes down to the simple question of, ‘what do you want from your team, do you want them to compete or win?’
Michael Murphy’s presence at midfield ensures Donegal remain competitive but on the big days, it’s not going to win big matches.
For Declan Bonner to go gung-ho and play his talisman as an out-and-out full-forward is a risk but it’s going to take a risk to destroy the Dublin dynasty.
Michael Murphy is the best footballer in Ireland. It’s time to let the big man loose and show us all why… once again.
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