GAA Football

Brendan Crossan: Michael Murphy - the complete player regardless of what Colm O'Rourke thinks

Donegal's Michael Murphy was the subject of a heated debate Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

IN his media dealings Declan Bonner is a master of saying a lot without saying anything. It’s a skill in itself to fill three or four minutes of a reporter’s tape-recorder after a game and say absolutely nothing.

We know it’s happening right in front of us, but we’re powerless to stop it.

No amounting of probing will make him change course.

I’ve been in many press boxes in empty GAA stadiums, long after the crowds have gone home, excavating Bonner’s post-match interviews trying to find something that is remotely quoteable.

It’s a genuine pity because it weakens GAA media discourse to the point where it becomes the norm for journalists to quote platitudes and clichés.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve always maintained that managers don’t have to be so guarded in their dealings with the media.

The likes of Mickey Harte, Jim McGuinness and Kieran McGeeney are among those who often properly engage(d) with journalists in their post-match briefings.

Just sometimes, however, Bonner breaks with tradition, usually to defend his own players.

Last year, he came out fighting when he felt Ryan McHugh was being targeted by the opposition – something which he’s entitled to do.

The latest breaking of his own media guidelines occurred at last Thursday’s Ulster final press day in Enniskillen when Colm O’Rourke’s name was uttered.

Prior to the Ulster SFC semi-final between Tyrone and Donegal, RTE pundits O’Rourke and Joe Brolly argued over Michael Murphy’s impact over the last decade.

Brolly played the role of the staunch defender of the Donegal captain while O’Rourke insisted the Glenswilly man’s influence had been greatly exaggerated.

The Meath man proceeded to recall mostly halves of football where Murphy didn’t live up to the greatness tag.

Citing Aidan O’Mahony’s 70-minute man-handling of the player in the 2014 All-Ireland final was dubious enough evidence.

In response, Bonner said O'Rourke needed to go to Specsavers.

O’Rourke’s assessment of Michael Murphy came across as a bit mean-spirited.

Contrastingly, Brolly highlighted some of Murphy’s greatest achievements in the game – forgetting, of course, that he felt Murphy’s legs had gone while analysing his performance against Dublin in last summer’s Super 8s encounter at Croke Park – but nevertheless...

For the viewer this was classic rubber-necking, a kind of Punch-and-Judy punditry, where the world could only be viewed in two simple shades: black or white.

Despite interrupting O'Rourke's flow, Brolly's argument had clearly greater merit.

To ensure Murphy wields no influence in a game you have to be basically in his face for the entire game.

Of course, Tyrone's Padraig Hampsey played by fairer means during last year's Super 8s clash and came out on top of their intriguing duel - as was pointed out by O'Rourke - with Hampsey popping up with two brilliant points from play in the Red Hands' victory.

Murphy emerged the better man from their more recent duel in Breffni Park.

It’s tempting to discriminate against a player’s gait. We’ve probably been all guilty of it in the past.

Murphy has this plodding kind of style. The slightly untidy stride, the bulky frame, and sometimes with that bulk a player can look awkward.

And yet Murphy has feet like Fred Astaire.

It’s hard to remember a player in the history of the game of his size and frame that is as nimble as he is at evading challenges.

From the privileged view of the press box in Brewster Park, Murphy was the best player on the field against Fermanagh last month.

Donegal’s possession game obviously suits his languid style - and he has lightning pace all around him - but the great thing about him that afternoon was his unerring ability to affect the game at the right times.

He lulls defenders into a false sense of security and then strikes.

His 39th minute point showed that there is not a more intelligent footballer in the modern game.

After feeding the ball to a team-mate, the natural inclination was to head for the edge of the square.

Instead, he drifted out to the left flank, keeping the middle less clogged, and once the ball was ferried from the right flank to the left, Murphy exploded into action and hammered the ball over the bar to put Donegal three up.

Che Cullen is a really diligent defender but sometimes Murphy’s movement is that good he is impossible to stop.

In an in-depth profile piece carried in The Irish News last year, former Antrim player Sean McVeigh explained how difficult his task was in trying to mark him in an Ulster Championship match.

“He was getting the ball on the run all the time,” McVeigh said.

“I don’t think he’s that hard to play against from kick-outs and out-breaking him, but it’s his reading of the break and knowing when to run.

“And he doesn’t run straight at you; he runs at an angle and he picks up pace so fast and because he’s running at an angle you can’t get your full force behind him.

“He’s just phenomenal. Relentless. He’s probably the best player to have played the game in a long, long time.”

Like many, I’ve a deeper appreciation of Murphy’s art the older he’s got. He is the complete player.

Colm O’Rourke can pick and choose matches – some of them big matches - where Murphy’s influence was curtailed – sometimes by foul means.

Diego Maradona played bad matches too.

But you shouldn't have to sift through a player’s back catalogue to determine his overall impact, especially when greatness is staring you in the face.

It was also a nice bonus to get a snippet of what Declan Bonner really thinks…

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