Murphy: ‘It’s gut-wrenching to finish the way we did and not perform to the level that we could’

September 19, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

THE GLISTENING TROPHY in Michael Murphy’s hand is little consolation for the Donegal captain after his side’s All-Ireland SFC exit at the weekend. 

Donegal captain Michael Murphy.

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

Four days after their season came crashing down in Castlebar, the Glenswilly man is in Dublin to collect a player of the month award for July. There’s only one trophy he wants, however, and that’s out of reach for another year, at least, now.

All things considered, he’s in upbeat form. But all he wants to do is rewind the clock to Saturday night, and right the wrongs. 

Disappointment is the overriding feeling in the aftermath of that four-point defeat to Mayo. And above all, disappointment in the fact that he and his side just didn’t perform.

It’s still very raw. 

“Not getting any better at it as the years go on,” Murphy, who turned 30 on Sunday, frowns, when he’s asked how he deals with it.

“I suppose you feel sorry for yourself for a few days anyway and then you start getting no sympathy so you start getting back into things. Ah, you just have to get up and get on with it.

“Listen, you’d be thinking about it every day and thinking about the way you performed as a team and individually. The game goes through your head on repeat, but you just have to get on with it, try and get back to club football as best as you can. Get out there and get your next game under your belt.”

The reflection is well and truly underway already. He knows from speaking with his team-mates, they’re all going over Saturday’s loss in their heads individually.

But it’s about coming back together, and getting through it as a team. They’ll meet up in the next week or two, and go through the year.

“Even though ultimately, it ended in failure, there have been a few positives,” he assures.

“We’ll briefly mention them but we’ll look then straight away at ways to improve in getting over the failures. Inevitably we’ve failed in the crucial games the last two years in-a-row against Tyrone and now against Mayo.

A dejected Murphy after the game with Fergal Boland and Aidan O’Shea.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’ll put a plan in action to get back and at it again. We’ll get stuck into it.”

Of course, the year as a whole has to be reflected on in time, and we do that later in our conversation. But it’s very hard to shake Saturday night, and that final Super 8s hurdle they’ve fallen at the past two years. 

The bad days stay with you for longer.

“Obviously getting beat is a big disappointment,” he continues, “but getting beat when we didn’t perform to what we felt was our potential…

“We thought we had the level of consistency that was missing the previous year with our performances this year. To not have that level of consistency or keep that level going for the Mayo game was just the really, really disappointing thing.

“Even with the injuries that we had coming into the game, we still felt confident due to the fact that we had proven a level of consistency throughout the year. It’s gut-wrenching for everyone to finish in the way we did and to just not perform to the level that we could.”

After a win over Meath and a draw with Kerry at Croke Park, it all came down to a do-or-die clash out West.

And Murphy laments the fact that his side didn’t perform again and again. Too many mistakes, too many wides.

“The missed chances are a big one; myself included. There were four or five in the second half that you’d want to be ticking on, you would want to be hitting at least three or four of them anyway.

“Unfortunately in the second half of a championship game you can’t have that kind of statistic on your sheet. It’s what killed us in the end, we didn’t convert enough of them.

“We just didn’t perform individually and collectively and I keep going back to it, but that’s where it’s at.”

“Credit is due to Mayo,” he adds. “You can say that we didn’t perform as a team but they brought a level of intensity and aggression and footballing ability that we didn’t match on the day so they need to get a lot of credit too.

Slotting a penalty against Mayo.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They put you to the pin of your collar, they play aggressive football and that’s something we try to play too but we didn’t do it for long enough against them.

“Ultimately, the execution of the chances, the wides that I had and the balls that didn’t go over the bar caught up to us. It’s an All Ireland quarter-final and you can’t be doing it.”

He’d love to be talking about locking horns with Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final showdown on Saturday evening, but instead, Murphy finds himself prematurely reflecting on 2019 as a whole. 

Saturday night’s post-mortem might not be the most pleasant, but the 2012 All-Ireland-winning captain can take solace in the fact that this year as a whole was better than last. 

The Tír Chonaill men went back-to-back in Ulster, landed the Division 2 league title and earned promotion to the top flight; unearthing a huge amount of rising talent along the way.

“I keep coming back to that word consistency,” he says. “Last year maybe our form wasn’t at that level week in, week out, day in, day out.

“We thought this year coming off midway through the National League, through Ulster, through a good part of the Super 8’s, it was starting to get to a level that we needed to get to in order to get a certain amount of belief within the squad.

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“That has been a positive all year apart from the big blotch that was the Mayo game.

“A lot of younger players are a year further down the line, we’ve even introduced one or two even younger players again; Oisin Gallen has been there, Odhran McFadden Ferry; it’s been really, really good to see them and make contributions in their first year. It’s phenomenal for them at that level. That has been a plus for us.

“When I go back and reflect for a wee bit, I do believe we are a small bit better improved. Unfortunately it is two big games at two big times of the year that we’ve lost two years in-a-row.

“That’ll be the target next year, to navigate your way through Ulster, or a back door, to get ourselves in a similar scenario and try and overcome that obstacle.”

With Patrick Horgan earlier today.

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

While he stresses that his side didn’t buy into the hype that they were a prime candidate to challenge Jim Gavin’s all-conquering Dublin, Murphy feels it’s important that Declan Bonner’s men keep the bar high. 

And raise it higher, at that. Keep driving standards, and pushing on.

“It’s definitely what you have to do,” he agrees. “And you have to be realistic too in the goals that you set.

“Going back to that level of consistency that we were hitting throughout this year, there was a realistic target there of getting through to an All-Ireland semi, and God knows where else after that. I thought it was a realistic ambition after that.

“You have to set that again for next year, but there’s a hell of a lot of footballing ground to make before you get to those stages next year. It’s important to the team that we have there to set those bars and keep everybody hungry.”

Back to the drawing board it is, with a long winter ahead to rally the troops.

But as Murphy said, you just have to get on with it. With a few rounds of league to be played before club championship kicks in, that comes as a welcome distraction.

There’s not much time to lick the wounds, and that’s the best way to have it, he smiles.

PwC GAA/GPA Players of the Month for July, footballer Michael Murphy (Donegal), and hurler, Patrick Horgan (Cork), were at PwC offices in Dublin today to pick up their respective awards.

The players were joined by PwC’s Ronan Finn, Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, John Horan, and GPA Chief Executive, Paul Flynn.

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