The fire still burns for Donegal talisman Michael Murphy

County’s heartbeart hopes his side can learn from Tyrone’s improbably All-Ireland win

It was another frustrating, injury-disrupted season for Michael Murphy. Donegal were once again shaping up as the leading contenders for the Ulster championship, having topped Division One North by going unbeaten against the top counties in the province.

The provincial semi-final paired them with Tyrone, a team whose measure they appeared to have in the past couple of seasons. A tight encounter was in the balance when Murphy uncharacteristically missed a penalty and then got sent off.

“The execution of it probably wasn’t as cleanly hit as I would have liked,” he says about the penalty. “When they’re not on target you don’t give it a chance.”

Neither is he under any illusions about the red card. “If it was against us you would say it was a red so no, definitely, I had no qualms whatsoever. They’re two yellows . . . I should be experienced enough to know having played the game now for a number of years at intercounty level . . .”


To have contributed to that defeat to the extent he did bothers the Donegal captain but in the sudden-death protocols of Covid All-Irelands the county had to look on as their neighbours went on to win a wholly unexpected All-Ireland. How did he feel about that turn of events? Has the scale of that missed opportunity tormented him and his team-mates?

“It crosses the mind but at the end of the day, what Tyrone went on and did thereafter – there was a hell of a lot more to navigate than just that one game. So, as I say, credit to them. They went on and . . . that was impressive.

“For ourselves that’s the pill we have to swallow again this year and try and get on the horse again to get back and at it. I still believe in the group that’s currently here that we can do it, that we can be competitive with any team that there is in the country but, you know, again, speaking about that and doing it are two completely different things.”

Tyrone’s navigation required them to pass through Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo – all counties against whom Donegal have a reasonable recent record. The main obstacle of recent years, Dublin, were taken out by Mayo.

Murphy’s caution about extrapolating too much from the misfortunate defeat by Tyrone is understandable given how the county has managed to lose key matches over the past four seasons.

“It’s no different to other years when we would have played the Mayos, the Kerrys, the Dublins and put it up to them either in a national league game or a championship game but we didn’t get over the line. That doesn’t mean we’re any closer to winning an All-Ireland but at the end of the day that’s what we’re here to do.

“If we can take something from what Tyrone have achieved, we will but again, it’s speaking time. When it comes into the nuts and bolts of championship games we need to try and show more and win. That’s where we need to show it and not talking about it here now.”

He is a supporter of motion 19 and the league-based championship format that failed to get sufficient support at last week’s special congress but like many of the proposal’s advocates, he believes that it needed refining.

“Maybe it’s a personal thing for ourselves here in Ulster and that Donegal missed out on it for so long that we do really pride ourselves on our provincial championship. But I also believe in tweaks to recognise the winners of the provincial championship and permit the Division One teams to compete in the latter stages of the championship.

“With those two tweaks I think it’s a no-brainer of a proposal.”

Murphy says that “the fires are still burning” for him at intercounty level, having played all of his debut season at the age of 17 in 2007. Although he feels, “there’s still a number of years left in me that I believe I can contribute” at 32 he has a wry appreciation of his playing mortality.

“There will be a time that comes fairly shortly when I’m either not able to contribute or I’m a pain in the arse and I don’t need to be around any more and that will come too. I don’t know but I hope I will be big enough to recognise and acknowledge that.”

- Michael Murphy was speaking at the launch of the Bread Made Better, The Secret is Out campaign for Gallaghers Bakehouse.