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Comment: Donegal captain Michael Murphy is decade's most influential player

Big lift: Donegal captain Michael Murphy (left) collects the Division Two title with Hugh McFadden
Big lift: Donegal captain Michael Murphy (left) collects the Division Two title with Hugh McFadden
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The next time Michael Murphy kicks a point for Donegal, which will almost certainly come on May 26 against Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship, he will reach a total of 600 points for his county.

Last Saturday, he enhanced his record as the most successful Donegal captain of all time by lifting his eighth piece of silverware, the Division Two title conversely being his first as well back in 2011.

Lifting it with him was Hugh McFadden, who had deputised in his absence while he was recovering during the winter from a clean-up operation on his knee.

McFadden looked suitably embarrassed. Nice touch and all, but there is no doubt as to who Donegal's captain is. It's been that way for a decade.

In 2010, with the senior team off colour, the Under-21s were the county's flagship side. They won an Ulster title but lost the All-Ireland final to Dublin when Murphy smacked the crossbar with a penalty in a two-point defeat.

Once he was given the job of managing that particular team, Jim McGuinness was decisive.

"The very first thing I did was ring Michael Murphy and ask him to be captain," noted McGuinness in his autobiography.

"I didn't have a relationship with Michael at that time, but I knew enough to know I wanted him as captain."

And so here he is, in his ninth consecutive season as Donegal captain. It's almost impossible to imagine any player in the history of hurling or Gaelic football spending longer in such a role.

Some recent examples come close. Anthony Daly led Clare from 1992 to 1999, eight seasons. Kieran McGeeney inherited Jarlath Burns' Armagh captaincy in 2000 and put down eight campaigns until 2007.

Nobody gets to keep a role such as that for sentimental reasons.

In examining his body of work, the numbers are staggering.

In 146 matches for Donegal, he has compiled 29 goals and a further 512 points. That's an average of 4.1 points per game.

The second-most prolific scorer in Donegal history is Martin McHugh with 16 goals and 396 points, averaging 3.22 points per game. More contemporary figures include Colm Anthony McFadden with an average of 2.97 points per game and Patrick McBrearty on 2.7 per game.

Murphy has been one of the most influential players in Gaelic football's history, certainly the greatest Donegal have ever had. In 2015, Peter Canavan identified Murphy as the most influential footballer on the island. Little has changed since.

His influence is such that he shapes the peripheral business of Donegal football. In taking up a coaching role with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, there is a concerted effort being made to try to ensure the most gifted footballers are educated locally. Only last month, LIT landed the Trench Cup, beating Dundalk IT in the final with Peader Mogan and Michael Langan in their line-up.

Murphy's life is based around his captaincy, the team and the county.

Every single adult Championship, football and hurling, in Donegal carries a 'Michael Murphy Sports and Leisure' sponsorship tag from his shop in Letterkenny, which he part-owns with former county midfielder and Glenswilly clubmate Neil Gallagher.

He sat down with Donegal journalist Chris McNulty in February 2015, but since that there hasn't been a word outside the group interview format. If it doesn't benefit him or the team, then it is of no worth.

And yet for all that, he remains curiously underrated in some quarters. On last Sunday night's 'League Sunday' programme, Colm Cooper was slightly sniffy about Murphy, stating he can be dealt with by the very top teams.

They can be difficult to please in Kerry, but Murphy has no need to fret over outlandish punditry. Enjoy him while he's in his prime.

Chrissy epitomises spirit of the GAA

Anyone who has caught a few of Chrissy McKaigue's interviews down through the years will have got the message now that this is not just some process-driven automaton who doesn't see the world around him.

During Slaughtneil's numerous forays through the latter stages of Ulster and All-Ireland competitions, his prominent role with the International Rules teams and now as Derry captain, he manages to crystalise with few words what the purpose of the GAA as a sporting body should be about.

His work as a Gaelic games co-ordinator with St Mary's Limavady and the wider Roe Valley area has shown him that where there is concise and charismatic leadership, along with a willingness to work hard, great things can be achieved. He has spoken before about the attitude at the top end of Gaelic football and hurling at the cost of others.

It was perhaps with this in mind that he made his speech after Derry beat Leitrim in the Division Four final at Croke Park last Saturday.

"It would be remiss of me not to mention Leitrim," McKaigue said.

"I mean that sincerely because the GAA is all about promoting every single county, and the journey those guys have put Leitrim fans on this last while has been incredible. Three cheers for Leitrim."

Leitrim had made two appearances at Croke Park in the previous 25 years, a struggling county with the smallest population in Ireland.

In the GAA of a man like Chrissy McKaigue, something would be done to tackle an anomaly like this.

But we are not there yet.

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