Ireland's Michael Murphy got through First Test 'flying on one wing'

Michael Murphy and the Ireland team arrive at their hotel in Perth on Wednesday Picture by INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Cahair O'Kane in Perth

“HEROIC.” Few on the tour would know the kind of Michael Murphy better than the team doctor that’s seen him around the Donegal camp many a day, so for Kevin Moran to give that label to his performance on Sunday speaks volumes.

It was heroic in two ways. The first was in its own nature, tormenting the Australian full-back line, scoring the goal and getting through a huge amount of work.

The second was that he was out there at all. “He was flying on one wing” was how Moran put it and even though Murphy played it all down, he admitted yesterday that it had been a struggle with the illness that ran through the Ireland camp.

“Everybody was contracting a bit of something. A couple of days there before it I was a wee bit down but I managed to get out there.

“I didn’t really know until I got out there how I would feel, just drained of energy of all sorts. When you get out there and you get the first rattle, the first bang, the tail goes up and you’re mad for action. I got through it alright.

“I was always going to go down and try it anyway, try the warm-up at least. Going out in the heat first time around the tongue was fair wagging but after that it was grand.

“Everybody generally was tired after it. I definitely was anyway. Just the sheer heat.

“It wasn’t as if you were covering huge, huge amounts of ground, it was just the intense bursts you had to do. I took to the bed fairly early that night.”

That the game started off at a blistering pace in 34-degree heat was just about all he needed. Glenswilly on a November afternoon Adelaide was not.

But he grew into it and along with Conor McManus, led from the front in the usual way.

He still refers to the game as the “Compromise Rules”, as it once was, and one of the key attacking elements is the use of the attacking mark.

It’s an idea that has been mooted in the past for helping to alleviate the defensiveness of Gaelic football but despite the joy he got at the weekend, Murphy is hesitant to believe it would transfer across quite so well.

“The mark at midfield has been a positive introduction in Gaelic football. Maybe it hasn’t decreased the number of short kickouts that are there but at least it gives an advantage and an opportunity for the midfielders and anyone else out there that makes a clean mark.

“It gives you a chance and options, where before it was almost a punishment to catch the ball because of being crowded out.

“For a forward, I don’t think so. It’d very messy to try and introduce it.

“The runs and everything you make and the areas you win the ball in Compromise Rules as a forward, it’s completely different to the areas you’re winning them in Gaelic football.

“If we were winning the balls we were winning last Sunday in Gaelic, you’d just be crowded out and it would be fairly ineffective.

“The fact you can win balls out in corners but still have a shot, if you were winning them in Gaelic football I don’t think it’d be a huge advantage.”

Having experienced a taste of professional rugby when he trained, and impressed, with French outfit Clermont Auvergne as part of The Toughest Trade television programme, this was another close-up look at the strengths of professional athletes.

And the Donegal captain says that it is in the sheer athletic running power of the Australians, particularly their big men, that the difference lies.

“There’s bangs and hits and you’d come away sore but in terms of their physicality… it’s through running you’d notice it.

“They run in packs. In terms of other areas of physicality, there’s not much of a difference. We’re not far off. But the way they are able to run the ball in numbers is the one thing I’d notice. They’re very strong at it.

“Even their big men, they’re very comfortable running off the ball.”

The difference in winning and losing the first Test was the goal chances Ireland squandered. While Murphy did raise the one green flag for the visitors, numerous other opportunities were botched.

Part of that was how Australian goalkeeper Brendon Goddard played as a sweeper and on several occasions rushed the Irish forwards into a shot that was missed.

The nature of the game’s tackle, where players in possession can be wrapped up and pulled to the ground as in the AFL, meant the snap judgement was more often than not to attempt a lob.

“A couple of those opportunities, when the ’keeper comes out and blitzes you as quick as they do, you’d tend to maybe step around them but you have to really get your shot away here because they’re so quick and so big and so nimble in the tackle to get around.

“They don’t leave you with any space at all with any chance you do get in that area around the goal, but even out the field too. I got wrapped up in a tackle for double-thinking that split second more. It’s not a nice place to be.”

He had given supporters a taste of what Donegal have perhaps been missing by playing at full-forward, which is where Ireland had planned to use him all along.

But the injury to Pearce Hanley and the unavailability of Enda Smith, he had to be pulled out eventually.

“From what I was doing in the weeks we were training, it was generally inside. And then probably when a couple of the lads around the middle weren’t feeling that well, I had to go out.

“With Kevin [Feely] and Aidan [O’Shea] doing the bulk of the work around the middle, inevitably they needed a break, especially when Pearce was gone.

“The two lads had a horse of game amid the big Aussies. Two powerhouses and now Gary [Brennan] with a good solid week in terms of full health, he’ll be able to bolster that along with Enda.”

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