Rory Gallagher: You can't measure Michael Murphy's value to Donegal
THIS week has been “fairly relaxed” for Rory Gallagher as he aims to reverse the result of last year’s Ulster final and lead Fermanagh to a shock Ulster SFC win against Donegal at Brewster Park this Sunday.
The Ernemen might have beaten Donegal in the League but it was ultimately Declan Bonner’s side who earned promotion while back-to-back defeats in the final two games saw Fermanagh just miss out.
In that League fixture, Michael Murphy was missing for Donegal and there is no doubt the Tir Chonaill captain is a huge influence on his team, with Gallagher arguing that he has never been more important.
“Michael’s return is immeasurable. Never have Donegal relied on him more, and that has been said about him a lot over the last five years or so,” he said.
“At the minute he is so key to them, and I think he is delighted to be playing in a revitalised forward line with the likes of Michael Langan coming in to his own, Jamie Brennan coming in to his own, Niall O’Donnell and the likes of Eoghan ‘Ban’ [Gallagher] attacking. We will have to work very hard to curb Michael on Sunday.”
Gallagher was assistant manager to Jim McGuinness when Donegal won the All-Ireland with Murphy as captain, while he took the reins as manager for three seasons. He sees one particular trait in Murphy that makes the Glenswilly man the competitor he is.
“Michael’s greatest strength is that I’m quite confident he would cut his father’s throat to win a game of football. I’ve seen him at training cut boys in two to win a game of football.”
Those who know Gallagher can attest to the fact his own metaphorical knife-wielding skills are equally as ruthless, and the Fermanagh manger has turned a critical eye inward on his own management team in pursuit of victory this Sunday.
“The week of the game is fairly relaxed,” he said.
“We just need to learn from last year. Maybe last year we were so keen going in to the final, maybe we over-analysed things against Donegal.
“Maybe you are so keen that your players know absolutely everything that that takes away from the
bite and the intensity from your training.
“So now, everything we do is about ourselves. The boys know the Donegal players inside out and the style that Donegal play, so it is really about focusing on ourselves now.”
In that Ulster final Fermanagh didn’t perform and Donegal cantered to victory, a point the Erne boss is happy to concede.
“We have to be honest with ourselves: It was a big game and we underperformed,” he said.
“We didn’t play like we wanted to or like we could, and that is something that we must learn from.
“I would not read too much into the League game this year. It was an important game from our point of view to win but Sunday is about being at your best when it is required to be, this is what it comes down to,” Gallagher said.
Being at their best means being as brilliantly suffocating in defence as they were for the first five games in the League.
Gallagher is acutely aware that some view his team as the antidote to a free-flowing football ideal but it is not something that particularly annoys him. And he makes a strong argument in favour for the way
his team plays when asked if is he bored of the continued negative analysis.
“I don’t get bored of it,” he said. People are entitled to their opinion. There has no doubt been a change in style of play for the majority of teams.
“We cut our cloth to suit. If you look at the Fermanagh club football the top scores of the top teams is maybe 13 or 14 points. In Donegal you are looking at teams kicking 18 to 20 regularly.
“We feel the way we play is the style of play that gets the most from the squad we have, and it makes us very competitive.”
The Fermanagh manager also makes the argument, however, that there has been a progression in the way this team have been playing this year.
“But, as I said, I think styles evolve and teams evolve. I don’t think Fermanagh will remain the same
forever. We think we attack an awful lot.
“Maybe we don’t kick the ball in the conventional way that people want to see it kicked. But I think
we are different this year than
what we were last year, and for
us we just have to make sure that we score more when we get the chance.”