GAA Football

Kicking Out: Michael Murphy's leadership methods more attuned to modern sport than Jordan's Bulldozer ways

The phrase 'Be Like Michael' was coined during Michael Jordan (right)'s remarkable time with the Chicago Bulls - but it's Donegal captain Michael Murphy (left) that young sportsmen and women should aim to be like.

THE very first game Donegal U21s played under Jim McGuinness was a challenge match against Sligo in Ballyshannon.

Michael Murphy had a family confirmation the same day. Chauffeured by his father Mick, he landed into the changing room in his suit, played the game and then headed back.

The new manager had plans for the Glenswilly rock and needed that display of leadership.

He was made Donegal captain as soon as McGuinness got the senior job.

Murphy has gone on to become his county’s greatest ever captain, lifting the Anglo Celt five times and raising Sam Maguire at the tender age of 22.

No footballer in the county’s past or future will ever leave such a legacy.

In terms of his footballing ability, Brendan Devenney hit it right on the nail when he did an interview with The Herald back in February.

"People say to me he's the best player playing for Donegal ever. I say if you cut him in half, he would be number one and two. He's so far ahead, it's just unbelievable."

Talent can often divide opinion. While other sports can be more tribal in defence of their own, we hold our greats to a higher standard.

The locals, not outsiders, make the call on your popularity. And we’re a hard people to please.

Michael Murphy is loved universally in Donegal. Unequivocally.

You could stop at every house from Malin Head to Bundoran and you’d do well to find a man, woman or child that doesn’t worship the ground he walks on.

A huge part of that is because he’s the man he is.

Talent will earn you respect, but it won’t earn you love.

The reason Michael Murphy is so adored in Donegal is that he carries himself with such grace, both on and off the field.

But don’t mistake that for any softness.

You do not want to be marking him if you’re on the opposition team.

Trying to stop him gliding powerfully on to a ball and sending it halfway into McElhinney’s car park, raising roof and white flag both with it, is one thing.

But if he was called in front of a grand jury after a game and asked if he had behaved like an angel, he’d often have to perjure himself.

He is as driven and single-minded as they come.

Not only is he well able to stand up for himself, but he will stand up for every man around him in green and gold.

If fire wants to come and meet him, he’s happy to put his hand out. He just mightn’t give the hand back.

He will do whatever it takes to win. That is one of the key traits in his character as a footballer.

But it’s how he operates within his own surroundings, within his own group, that defines his leadership.

As manager of Letterkenny IT’s Sigerson Cup team, he had ultimate command over a few of his young county team-mates earlier this year. His approach is to demand, but to encourage.

His role as captain of Donegal is different.

Michael Murphy doesn’t tell others what to do. He shows them.

When he does speak, he does it so positively.

That’s why they follow him.

His is the very definition of positive leadership.

The qualities in that domain of another Michael have been at the forefront of sporting discussion for the last few weeks of lockdown.



I’m going to assume you’ve watched The Last Dance. If you haven’t, why?

A brilliant production charting the Chicago Bulls’ dominant team of the 1990s and their leader, Michael Jordan, it reminds us not only of the precociousness of his talent but also how ruthless he could be.

When he bullied opposition players around the court, his team-mates, the Bulls supporters loved him. Everyone else marvelled.

Jordan was a freak athlete. What he had was a perfect physical blend that made him almost impossible to stop in a sport that rewarded his fearlessness so handsomely.

As an example to be followed in terms of how he played, just like Michael Murphy, you will not find better.

But the way Michael Jordan conducted himself away from games, around his team-mates, within his own group? A different tale altogether.

The punch that left Steve Kerr with a black eye is irrelevant. Every team in every sport has fights among themselves.

Jordan, however, took it to another level. He constantly badgered his team-mates, taunting them, poking at them, questioning them. Undermining them.

Roy Keane was absolutely no different at Manchester United.

You cannot argue with the success they had, given that they set the standard for teams that enjoyed a crushing dominance in their field.

They got away with it because that was the era they lived through.

Negative leadership was a norm across the sporting world.

To this day, some still need a cause in order to perform. The opposition, the fans, the media, often your own manager – whatever it is, there has to be someone to prove wrong.

That working the changing room into a state of frenzy and having them take the door off the hinges on the way out is the only way to be.

But it’s a technique that is raging against the dying light.

Modern-day top-level players are primarily driven by the science of sport, what they can do to maximise their own output and how they can control the controllables.

The Michael Jordan method of leadership simply wouldn’t drag anyone along now. It would just drag them down.

It’s hard to know which era that’s a criticism of, but either way, it’s a reality.

This is the time of the Michael Murphy method.

Not soft. Not gentle. Not backwards.

But not cruel, not cutting, not callous.

The standard he sets by his actions around MacCumhaill Park shame others into action, but his words never do. They never have to.

So if you’re the club captain or the big voice in your changing room and you’re thinking you need to be like Michael, you’re right.

But it’s Murphy, not Jordan, you should take your lead from.

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