Michael Murphy has been striking fear into opponent’s eyes since coming off the bench to make his senior championship debut in 2007 against Armagh on a day when he represented Donegal at both minor and senior level.
We all know of the storied career he has had in the intervening years. He has captained Donegal since 2011 and will retire as the county’s most successful skipper having led them to four Ulster titles, one Allianz League and one All-Ireland crown.
His ability is unquestionable and his talent undeniable, however, one issue that has continued to raise its head is where best to play the towering Glenswilly man.
Murphy started his senior career as a full forward to devastating effect and continued in that fashion by averaging six points a game in 2009 en route to collecting Young Football of the Year.
When Donegal reached the promise land under Jim McGuinness in 2012, Murphy was their go-to man in full forward. He scored an iconic goal after three minutes that epitomised classic full forward play and went on to collect the Man of the Match award as well as a maiden All-Star in the 14 jersey.
The game has changed since then and Murphy has more often than not found himself playing out around the midfield for Donegal. He has played as an out and out midfielder, as a centre forward and also as a deep-lying playmaker, such is his talent he excels in all these positions.
The debate surrounding where best to play Murphy reared its head a few weeks back on Off The Ball’s Gaelic Football Show, with everyone unanimously agreeing that Murphy was Donegal’s best player but some felt he was needed in a more central position as the days of the impactful full forward comes to an end. It was even suggested that playing Murphy at full forward was now as a result of ‘panic stations’.
With more and more packed defences, it is a legitimate argument to suggest that Murphy is best utilised further out the field, but the big man himself proved on Saturday evening against Armagh that he is at his devastatingly best when kept inside, close to goals were he can wreak havoc.
Murphy didn’t start the game but was introduced after 28 minutes with the score level at 0-3 apiece and Donegal struggling to make any real impact from open play. All three of their scores came from Michael Langan placed balls.
The Glenswilly ace was put straight into the full forward line where he stayed for the majority of the game and ultimately proved the difference between the sides.
Donegal’s first score from play came after his introduction, and although it will go down as Niall O’Donnell’s point after a booming run by Eoghan Ban Gallagher, the sheer presence of Michael Murphy inside was enough.
He made a decoy run from full forward which allowed O’Donnell to run into space and kick an effortless score.
The game’s defining moment came a few short minutes later when Donegal grabbed the only goal of the game seconds before the half-time whistle to send them in one point in front and, in many ways, deflate the Armagh challenge.
Murphy scored the all-important goal in what was a classic poaching full forward’s goal.
Donegal attacked down the left wing, Armagh defended in number and were probably victims of ball watching as Murphy ghosted untracked into the full forward position. When he eventually received the ball, he was left with a one-on-one shot at Blaine Hughes. There was only ever going to be one outcome.
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While Murphy’s goal proved the difference between the sides in the second-half, Donegal still struggled in attack. They hadn’t scored from play since the goal and needed a score to settle the nerves heading into the home stretch.
Up stepped the Glenswilly talisman who drifted out of the full forward line. He hovered as Donegal opted for a slow and patient build-up before peeling off, dropping back and receiving the ball on the 45-metre line and kicking over the bar.
Murphy went on to hit Donegal’s final score of the game in what proved to be the game’s vital score. Again he showed some quality forward play, drifting out of the full forward position. He collected the ball out on the right wing before showing all of his trademark running power, bombing through the Armagh defence to score again.
While this is a trait that can indeed to put down to great midfield or even centre forward play, Murphy showed all the classic instincts of a number 14 by turning back onto his right foot when it seems as though he had taken too much out of the ball.
On a night when Donegal only managed 1-3 from play, Murphy scored 1-2 and executed the role of decoy runner perfectly for the other point.
He is Donegal’s best player and given his high footballing IQ, his brute strength and powerful running, it’s easy to suggest that he should be out the field.
However, Michael Murphy is at his scary best when he is in at full-forward and causing havoc around him. Saturday night proved this.