Mark Murphy looks back 10 years and the Ulster title that got away from Fermanagh
As Fermanagh prepare to do battle against Donegal in the Ulster Senior Football Championship final, former Fermanagh midfielder Mark Murphy, now living in Australia, recalls the day the Ernemen lost the 2008 Ulster decider...
Brendan Crossan: When did you first break into the Fermanagh senior panel – under which manager - and did you play minor & U21?
Mark Murphy: It was 2004 when I first came onto the Fermanagh panel under Charlie Mulgrew. There was a huge transition from the year before under Dom Corrigan and there was a huge change in personnel.
I was in for the McKenna Cup that year under Sean O'Reilly/Syd Mulrone who were doing a caretaker role until Charlie Mulgrew came in.
I wasn't able to commit as I was completing my placement at North Sydney Sports Facility but I rejoined the panel around May time a few weeks before the Championship. I was in the minor panel for two years as sub keeper and then played on the U21s in the Hastings Cup.
BC: What was your favourite memory wearing the green jersey?
MM: It has to be playing in the Ulster final in 2008. It was 25 years or so since the last Ulster final Fermanagh were in and the buzz around the county was great.
I probably appreciated it more as I was playing and played most of the year compared to 2004 when we reached the All-Ireland semi final.
BC: What were your memories of the 2008 season and the games before the Ulster final?
MM: 2008 was a great year all round. The belief that Malachy O'Rourke and the backroom team had in us from the start, and we started to believe in ourselves as well.
We had a great run in the League, albeit lucky enough in that we were very close to losing the first two games. We got into the winning habit which only reinforced the belief we had.
We made the League final and were unfortunate to lose after extra-time but we had great belief heading into the Championship. Monaghan were on the back of reaching the Ulster final in 2007 and would have being favourites to reach the final again but we got stuck into them early and got a great win.
Again going into the Derry game [semi-final] we had huge belief.
There was a great bond built up among the team. We were cold out of the blocks that day and the turning point was Ronan Gallagher's penalty save.
I think that would have put us six or seven points down but we turned things around and kept battling away and then when Barry Owens got the goal it gave us a huge lift and the team spirit and work-rate was typified by Shane Goan diving to put his head in the way of a shot in the last few minutes in front of goal.
BC: Going into the Ulster final against Armagh, were Fermanagh confident of victory as Armagh were definitely on the slide around that period?
MM: After our two wins in Ulster that year we were going in pretty confident that we could put it up to any team and if we performed then we wouldn't be far away.
Armagh may have been on the slide but they still had serious experience in France Bellew, Paul McGrane, Stevie McDonnell and Ciaran McKeever. It was a pretty close first half and we were happy enough going in at half-time thinking we could push on in the second half.
But, for some reason we were slow to come out in the second half, but even when we went eight points down I still thought we could turn it round like we did against Derry.
We started to go at them and slowly closed the gap and when Shaun Doherty got the equalising point the noise was unbelievable.
I believe if the game went on for a few more minutes we would have got another score. Unfortunately the replay didn't go to plan, we missed too many frees in the first half and then Barry Owens going off injured seemed to take the life out of us.
BC: Do you remember who you were marking in both games against Armagh?
MM: I started off full-forward against France Bellew and then moved out to midfield after 10 or 15 mins and was marking Kieran Toner for most of it.
BC: What was your memories of the first game as it was one Fermanagh certainly should have won?
MM: Disappointment, I suppose, is the main memory, that we left it behind and didn't deliver our first Ulster title. A lot of 'what ifs' as well; what if I had caught the ball and took a shot instead of fisting it and it hitting the crossbar.
We missed a lot of frees that day. Mark Little hitting the post from a '45... Even though we were chasing the game in the second half that belief was still there that we could rein them in and win, but unfortunately we weren't able to get a winner the first day.
BC: Were you confident ahead of the replay?
MM: Yeah, we were very confident alright, especially the way we finished the game the first day. And everyone seemed to think that Armagh tired and that over the week we would recover better and have the legs for them the second day.
From what I remember we controlled a lot in the first half but we missed a lot of frees and they seemed to eat away at our confidence.
BC: Where does Malachy O’Rourke rank in all the managers – club and county – you played under?
MM: Malachy would definitely be the best manager I played for. He was able to instill belief into players, individually and collectively. His one-on-one man management was great and you can see it in what he has achieved over the years with club and county. He is a great manager. You can see with Monaghan and the players regularly come out saying how good he is and how much they wanted him to stay every year.
BC: What was special about that particular group of Fermanagh players?
MM: A good few of that group had came through together for a few years. There was a good bond among the team and everyone was putting in the effort that year and I suppose when we got the few wins early in the League that morale/belief increased and made things easier. That's a bit cliched but it definitely had the bond of a good club team.
BC: You and Marty McGrath complemented each other in midfield. Your thoughts on this partnership?
MM: Yeah, I really enjoyed playing midfield with Marty; we always seemed to know where each other was and would cover for each other well. We knew our roles well and we were given that freedom from Malachy to cover where we wanted.
I would have known Marty through school football, U21s and club football, so we had a good understanding of each other's game.
INJURY OR OUT OF FAVOUR?
BC: In 2004, you played in the Ulster Championship defeat to Tyrone but your name disappears during Fermanagh’s run to the All-Ireland semi-finals?
Were you injured or out of favour? I think you featured as a sub against Mayo in the All-Ireland semis.
MM: In 2004, I actually came on in the second half against Tyrone as a corner-forward. I was actually lost in there to be honest as I had never really played that position and probably wasn't making the right runs.
I came on against Donegal in the Qualifiers but as I only rejoined the panel in May time I had a holiday booked for two weeks and missed the Meath game in Brewster Park.
I was back for the Cork game but didn't feature and the same for the Armagh game in the All-Ireland quarter-final. I came on for last five minutes or so of the first game against Mayo in the semi-final.
BC: What was Charlie Mulgrew's strengths as a manager because some may have regarded him as an accidental hero in ’04?
MM: Charlie was good at building the bond between us that year. The team, I suppose, was very much makeshift that year with a lot of retirements from 2003 and maybe much wasn't expected from us. Charlie didn't believe that anyone was any better than us; he didn't see why we couldn't beat Tyrone, Meath, Cork or Armagh and that rubbed off on the players.
BC: What was a bigger deal for Fermanagh football – the 2008 Ulster final or reaching the 2004 All-Ireland semis?
MM: I believe that 2008 was a bigger deal for Fermanagh in general, in that we hadn't won an Ulster title before and it was the first time we had reached a final in 25 years, so there was certainly a bigger buzz. 2004 was great and helped give us the belief that we could compete, and we had players as good as any other county.
BC: What do you miss most about those years?
MM: I suppose representing your county, it was always something growing up that you would have wanted to do - maybe not midfield as I played in goals all through my underage years.
To put on the green jersey and play in Brewster Park. There is a special atmosphere in Brewster and we had some great wins in League and Championship over the years.
BC: Who was the best player you played with?
MM: That would have to be Barry Owens and Marty McGrath - no coincidence that both received Allstars. The way they both played the game, they backed themselves and just went out and got the job done.
There would be a point in a game where Marty or Barry would do something that would lift the entire team. They would just grab the game by the scruff of the neck and everyone followed.
BC: What was your last game for Fermanagh?
MM: In 2014, I came on as a sub against Laois in the Qualifiers.
BC: Did you fulfil your potential with Fermanagh?
MM: Well, even though we didn't win the League final or Ulster final, I believe that I had a good year in 2008. I maybe would liked to have back that up in 2009/2010 but went travelling instead.
BC: How long have you been in Australia and will you come back home?
MM: This is our 10th year now in Australia. We came out in October 2008 and bar a few trips home we are still here. We will hopefully be home in the next few years but there are just so many opportunities in Sydney at the minute.
BC: Did you get to watch Fermanagh’s wins over Armagh and Monaghan?
MM: No, I didn't see them. The Armagh game wasn't on TV but the Monaghan was. Unfortunately the late-night games and early-morning starts don't mix. I got to see the highlights on YouTube and will get to see the final.
BC: Do you keep in touch with any of the players you played with?
MM: I don't actually. I suppose not being at home and playing club football you are kind of out of the loop, and then the time difference and keeping in touch with friends and family, it's hard to be in contact with everyone.
BC: Have you considered coming home for the Ulster final?
MM: Haha! I'm actually home in August for a quick holiday so it hadn't crossed my mind. In saying that, to be in Clones to see Fermanagh lift the Anglo-Celt would be worth the airfare. I will have to do with watching it with a few Fermanagh ones here from the Michael Cusack's club in Sydney.