Michael Murphy is in a jovial mood on a dreary Thursday morning, cracking jokes of the “new normal” as he hops onto a zoom call with a bunch of journalists sporting buzz cuts and facial hair that hasn’t been groomed since March.
Joking aside, there is the sense that this “new normal” may be here to stay long after Covid-19 has passed and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Especially for those on the foothills of Donegal, a county known for its breathtaking landscape and a sense of wonder that stretches from Malin Head down to Bundoran.
Often, unjustifiably, described as the “forgotten county” Murphy sees two benefits stemming from life’s new normality.
One being that these slightly awkward zoom calls provide an opportunity for him and his teammates to stay engaged in each other’s lives while the future possibilities for young, up and coming talent in Donegal speaks for itself really.
“We’ve done zoom calls and as I say, we continue to do and probably for two benefits.
“Number one, I suppose the first kind of, the whole idea I think, to begin with, was trying… ah, I suppose, trying to keep things from moving and trying to, you know, keep learning and analysing and revising, revising. Slowly but surely that’s kind of formulated into actually just keeping more and more engaged with people.
“We’re at a stage here where, I’m at home living with Mum and Dad, it was your only opportunity other than seeing the neighbours from afar, to actually see the lads again. So slowly but surely it matured into actually seeing people again rather than actually doing work or training if you get me?
“Listen, there’s nothing like seeing a person face to face and feeling the body language, seeing the body language, seeing the different ways that they’re acting but it was the next best thing that we had to do and potentially there are positives out of it for us as a county.
“I look at Donegal and how dispersed we are and how big a county it is and how, you know, players we have away in college and work. Due to the situation, maybe here as a county, there’s an upside that people have become “zoom-literate” if you want to call it that word.
“People know how to use it and are more comfortable using it and I think instead, maybe in the future, instead of having to go for that 20-minute meeting in Dublin or having to pull players from Dublin to come up here and have a video analysis session or a short meeting, maybe we can actually use zoom now and hopefully it will relieve the pressure on players and on workers to work a little bit more remotely in a confident way.”
Murphy is chatting away from his home office in Glenswilly. Behind him lies a framed picture of what looks to be a simple green and yellow chequered flag with the word Donegal written underneath.
Already you get the sense that this is a man who loves his county. Not that anybody ever doubted that.
Murphy has been the number one player in Ireland since making his Donegal senior debut as a county minor in 2007. He could very easily have swapped the amateur game to try his hand at the professional lifestyle (AFL) but chose to remain at home.
As it happens, the reason we’re here is so the Donegal captain can reflect on his week-long stint with Clermont Rugby in 2017 as part of AIB’s ‘The Toughest Trade‘.
Murphy admits to having that nagging sense of what could have been after opting for the Donegal-life as opposed to the professional athlete’s life, so to get the opportunity later in life was something far beyond the Glenswilly man’s expectations.
“The overall experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn’t have enjoyed more than I ever would have expected. I’ve always enjoyed rugby, I enjoy sport, I love all sports. I always loved watching rugby. The opportunity when it came around to go to Australia, the one thing that just nagged me as the years have passed on was what it would have been like to be a professional sportsperson, and to live that lifestyle.
“And to get that opportunity to do it with a professional sports team for a week when I was in my late 20s was something I wasn’t expecting. It was something I loved and was beyond my greatest expectations. The things I’d have taken, the thing about that club – I don’t know if it’s the same in all professional clubs – the way that the team conducted themselves as people.
“Obviously they’re professionals and that’s their job, that’s their work, but how welcoming they were when there wasn’t a necessity for them to be that. But they were extremely welcoming, and all the different nationalities and they were extremely curious to learn about the background of Gaelic games.”
As we toss the oval ball games to one side, it is the round ball game closer to home that has made a household name out of Michael Murphy.
As Ireland slowly begins to reopen itself following a tough couple of months, Murphy is hopeful that the GAA’s roadmap for a return to action can benefit everyone.
Especially given that the club championships will be taking place before the inter-county championships. A split calendar for once, meaning players have the ability to throw themselves headfirst into both without fear of compromising the other.
“Yeah, I actually can’t wait (to get back with the club).
“I can’t wait but then my fears lie a little bit in that I hope the structures in both inter-county and club are compromised enough to not be too expansive so that we can throw ourselves at each of them. I just feel if we make it really expansive, loads and loads of games in our club championships and the same in our inter-county championship then eventually there’s going to be a crossover somewhere and as a result, you’re not going to be able to give yourself solely to the team.
“Again, I use the example of Donegal championship and I feel we’re very fortunate with the current structure that we would have where we play, in our senior championship, four groups of four and each team plays three games within their group. So in order to win the club championship, you would play six games, so only two teams will be playing six games.
“So you still get an adequate amount of club championship games and I feel as a county player, I’d be able to throw myself and the rest of the boys would be able to throw themselves at those three to six games. Anything more than that, then you’re delving into, well how do we prepare for inter-county championship?
“So I do believe it is achievable for us. How achievable it is for all those other counties? I don’t know, I suppose we’re looking at it from a selfish perspective here in Donegal and I do believe it is achievable where you would get your club championship played with that three to six games and then you would get your three to four-week run-in to an inter-county championship and as I say, play that off in a knockout basis, you get an opportunity to prepare for that knockout-basis.
“And maybe even through that too you can run a club league over those winter months to give the club teams more opportunities if they want more games to play.
“But I suppose, to get back to it, I’m mad to get back playing, I’d love to get back playing both the club and county football. But I just pray to God the structures are in place to allow us to do that and throw ourselves at each of them in equal measures.”