Michael Murphy was adamant that his playing career is over when he was wheeled out at Monday’s launch of the 2024 GAAGO schedules together with the streaming service’s other football pundits.
There was nothing ambiguous in his answer to presenter Gráinne McElwain’s question about a potential return to the Donegal dressingroom now that Jim McGuinness has returned as manager.
Yet the chatter afterwards was divided into those who were inclined to believe his blunt declarations and those convinced that he may yet pull on the county jersey next year.
In a subsequent interview, he continued to give little comfort to the sceptics.
“Being honest. When I finished up two years ago, I knew it was over. It didn’t wane for me. Everybody I met in the street said it would but apart from that, my reasons for leaving for the time — and they still are there — were I wasn’t able to give it the same level.
“That had nothing to do with managers, it had nothing to do with playing group. It just came down to me and what I felt I could bring to the party. So even with Jim coming in, it didn’t change. It didn’t change one iota.”
After a lengthy and distinguished career — All-Ireland captain, multiple Ulster medallist, Ireland captain in Australia and frequent citation as the best footballer of his generation — he called a halt in 2022 after a disappointing season but one in which he had continued to be a leading player for Donegal.
He missed a turbulent 2023 and the departure of two managers, settling into his role as a football analyst where he may have been left undisturbed but for the second coming of McGuinness, whose driven prescriptions had led to the most fulfilling years of Murphy’s career.
Surely there might be a rethink? McGuinness certainly left the door open in an interview in this newspaper in August.
“That’s a question for Michael and I think he’s made it quite clear that that moment has passed for him. I certainly wouldn’t be closing a door on him. I imagine he’ll be as strong as ever in the club championship. He’s played since he was 17 and he’s now 34. Half his life and you have to respect that. If he felt rejuvenated and his energy levels were restored and he was enthused, you’d love to have him but Michael has his life to lead.”
Murphy acknowledged that he still speaks regularly with his former manager and that the whole county has been re-enthused by McGuinness taking up the reins again.
“We chat and we do speak quite a bit, every other week. I know he’s really, really excited by it. I know everybody in Donegal is really excited by it. But there’s players there to go and do it. I’ll try and give in some other way, whether it’s shouting from the sidelines or back in underage, I’ll give in that way. But it won’t be on the playing pitch.”
Even as a dedicated full forward with no instructions to put out fires elsewhere on the field?
“I just couldn’t do that half in/half out thing. And that thing about full-forward — like, in the modern game, you can’t do that anymore. Watch the All-Ireland final out here. It was an incredible display of full-forward play from the Dublin full-forward line.
“I’d never seen anything like it. From Con O’Callaghan, Mannion, Basquel — the tracking and the running was incredible. And that’s the way the game is now.
“The idea that you throw yourself in there and just rest up, it’s just not like that anymore. The day a team does that, I think they’ll be found out. Imagine the likes of a Derry, with Conor McCluskey running you up the other way getting goals. It doesn’t work that way.”
He sounds like he means it.