Michael Murphy put in another Tour de Force display at Croke Park on Saturday night but Donegal still came up short in a cracking encounter with Kildare.
No one really knew what to expect from the All Ireland Champions such was their truncated beginning to the season. They started brightly but Kildare soon began to dominant and without Neil Gallagher in the side we struggled for primary possession around the middle. They racked up some fine scores, with newcomers Niall Kelly and Daniel Flynn catching the eye. The 'home' side led by five and held all the aces at half time - well all but one Ace.
In the second half Michael took over and almost single-handedly got his side back into it. He played a roving role that saw him pop up just about everywhere on Jones Road and he finished the night with 0-9 to his name.
With Colm McFadden going off early with a hamstring injury Murphy took on extra responsibility with young Ross Wherity helping him out in the forward line. The Eunan’s newcomer showed well for the ball and kept trying but his slight frame was no match for Kildare’s physicality. Improvement in this area though and Wherity will see more and more game time - no doubt Jim already has Adam Speer working with Wherity, and indeed the other new panellists, and they will only get bigger and stronger.
Having Wherity up front was in stark contrast to Kildare who had the man mountain figure of Tomas O’Connor who got a lot of joy in his full forward role for the Lilywhites; both McGee’s had a go at marking him with neither faring too well. The big man up front is certainly one way to beat this Donegal team so expect to see teams employing this tactic quite often.
O’Connor got his side’s first goal after touching home a rebound off the post, bringing back memories of the infamous square ball in the 2011 Quarter Final.
The next key moment of the game was the second Kildare major and unfortunately it had a bit of infamy about it as well. The country’s All Star goalkeeper had one of those howlers that every net-minder dreads. A complete misjudgement of his positioning with the ball in flight and all Paul Durcan could do was help it into the goal. He’s not the All Star No1 for nothing though and he has barely put a foot wrong in the last few years so we certainly won’t hold it against the big Four Masters man. Moments later Kildare tested him again to see how his nerves were with a high ball in on top of him but he dealt with it well.
After Murphy, McHugh et al had done their bit in dragging Donegal back into the game, the goal concession halted the momentum and Kildare had enough to hold on for the win. All in all, the boys will be relatively happy with their performance; they showed plenty of heart and hunger in the second half when the game could have easily gone out of sight. Donegal lost their first two league games of last year’s campaign and they wont want that to happen again – this weekend’s clash with Down in Ballybofey is a crucial tie.
McFadden will most likely be missing for that game and his scoring threat will need to be replicated by Patrick McBrearty. The Kilcar man did well on Saturday but more is needed from the young sharp shooter. His potential as a minor had him on the radar for so long and there is huge expectation on his shoulders. Many parts of his game are in place and he sees plenty of the ball every day he plays but if he could get on the scoresheet more regularly and add that killer instinct that all great forwards have, he can push onto another level.
McBrearty was involved in one the scores of the game, a point started and finished in Kilcar. Substitute Mark McHugh, who made a big difference when introduced, played a ball down the channel for McBrearty. He immediately dinked it up into his hands, found McHugh again with a clever pass inside and McHugh slotted it over.
This had come just a couple of minutes after probably the game’s best score and no prizes for guessing who it came from. Michael won a ball 50 yards out, drove into a gap and motored past two defenders. One managed to stay with him though and threw himself at what he thought was going to be a shot on goal. Instead Michael, showing wonderful awareness and poise, took another solo, left the Kildare man on the floor and stroked it over. It was class personified and conveyed everything that’s good about Murphy.
It strange how such a wonderful individual display can lead to many viewing it as a negative but that’s often what happens, the main argument being that the team relies too much on the Maestro and if he wasn’t there we wouldn’t have a chance.
Sure why wouldn’t we rely on him? The boy is a genius.
Every effort should be made to get him on the ball and let him dictate proceedings. His outing on Saturday night was reminiscent of his display against Dublin in last year’s league; he got injured that night and missed three months of action yet Donegal won the games they played for that period and kept on winning upon his return.
Barcelona don’t get criticised for Lionel Messi scoring almost a half of his team’s goals. Their approach is to keep possession and when the moment is right get him on the ball in the final third and he does the rest. Sounds like a good plan to me.
For Michael Messi Murphy it’s no different. Gaels everywhere should just sit back and enjoy watching an artist at work. He’s the best player ever to pull on a Donegal shirt, a once in a generation talent and he’s an All-Ireland winning Captain. And thank God he’s ours!