Following the script and living the dream
MAN OF THE MATCH MICHAEL MURPHY (Donegal):A FORTNIGHT ago, Michael Murphy sat down in front of a computer and got it out of the way. You don’t like to tempt fate with these things but in a land where planning is king, you do what has to be done and you take your chances with the gods.
If Donegal won, Murphy was going to have to make a speech. So he typed it up – all three pages of it – and gave it to the team’s logistics man Michael McMenamin for safe keeping. On the biggest day of your life, you’re best keeping the off-the-cuff stuff for the pitch.
The man-child from Glenswilly with the Desperate Dan chin was everything Donegal need him to be yesterday. When the stadium was a jig-jogging frenzy of nerves in the opening, his goal after three minutes put shape on the day.
After catching the ball on the edge of the square above the head of Kevin Keane, he landed and shot right-footed after just a couple of steps. David Clarke had no time to set himself because Murphy took neither a hop nor a solo nor even a look at the target. From that point on, Mayo were wiping dirt from their goggles just to keep Donegal in view.
“Certain scenarios can crop up that win games,” he said afterwards. “It’s something you visualise when you are younger and something you visualise in the weeks leading up to the game, that a scenario like that might arise. And if it does you have to capitalise on it as best you can. It was nice to have done that.
“It was just unfortunate that midway through the first half and into the latter stages that we didn’t carry on playing the way we normally do play and that affected us and affected the scoreboard. It was tit-for-that and it could have been anyone’s game.”
That it turned out to be Donegal’s ultimately came down to him. After Mayo had cut their seven-point lead down to three going into the last 20 minutes, Donegal were starting to bleed just a little. It was Murphy who applied the plaster, converting a huge free in the 56th minutes and following it up three minutes later with another.
When he beat Clarke to a high ball in on top of the square eight minutes from the end, his punch just skimmed the top of the crossbar. Any Donegal woe at the missing of a goal chance was leavened by the realisation that nobody on the pitch but Murphy had scored for the exact 10 minutes when Mayo needed to be making a game of the endgame. That punch put them six points up. Game over, even if he couldn’t admit as much.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he said. “You never thought it was over. Ask any footballer, it’s just relief that you didn’t get beat. That was the overriding feeling going up the steps with the boys and going around the pitch with the boys. It was something that will stick with you for your whole life and it’s something you will cherish.”
When he was a boy, Murphy used to plague his mother to take him to a particular stationary shop in Letterkenny to buy notepads for him to bring to Donegal games. At the final whistle of any match, he raced for the Donegal dressingroom to get the notepads filled with autographs. After a while, he was turning up so often that Tony Boyle and John Joe Doherty used to just take the notepads off him and go around the dressing room getting them filled in for him.
You’d say it’s the stuff of dreams that someone like that little boy could grow up to strap a county to his back on a day like yesterday but reality is far more interesting. Murphy could have been like generations of fine Donegal footballers, doomed to a life of heroic justaboutery. But then Jim McGuinness arrived to change his future and now he’s a made man. They all are.
Still, given the ringing in their ears when they left this place for the last time last year, to be the man reading his speech from the steps of the Hogan Stand come September must have felt a distance away.
Could he have imagined they’d actually win the whole thing when they set out in January?
“I honestly could. Coming off the back of it last year one of the main things that was instilled in the team was a belief and a confidence that we could win games. Up until last year we hadn’t won a lot of games in Ulster and the latter stages of an All-Ireland series.
“Last year gave us the belief and training through the winter and playing in the National League we knew we had a lot of things to work on. But every morning you were waking up you were winning an All-Ireland in the back of your head. That might be hard to believe but that was the attitude that a lot of us had.”
How well it served them.