As the bend sweeps at Foxhall towards Glenswilly’s GAA club grounds some local wisecrack erected a little sign on the side of the road that says: “Superman wears Michael Murphy pyjamas.”
Considering the influence the now 23-year-old has on his local club, it’s a fair point. It’s only 16 months since Murphy scored all but a point in the 1-8 to 0-9 win over St Michael’s in the Raidió na Gaeltachta SFC final at MacCumhaill Park.
It was a performance and result that provided Glenswilly with their first ever senior county championship title, just a few weeks before their 30th birthday. Murphy’s significant input had turned dreams into reality.
His involvement with Donegal has seen a direct correlation with success. It’s been well documented it took four years to get a win in Ulster as a senior, but the positives outweigh the negative.
Since winning the Buncrana Cup with the U-16 side, he’s won provincial championships at minor level in 2006, U-21 in 2010 and senior in each of the last two seasons.
Murphy, in September, became the first Donegal man ever to score an All-Ireland final goal when he rammed home a choreographed dropping ball from Karl Lacey in three minutes against Mayo at Croke Park.
The man of the match award following the 2-11 to 0-13 win was a fitting testament to the abilities of the Donegal captain, who would in the winter months have an All-Star to add to his Footballer of the Year award won three years beforehand.
On the grander scale of things, Donegal opening their National Football League Division One campaign with a four-point loss against Kildare at a third-full Croke Park is, in all likelihood, going to be one of the more forgettable moments.
Jim McGuinness is acutely aware that he will never be judged on what happens in the league and uses the competition to experiment ahead of the real business.
The Donegal manager wants his team to maintain their top-flight stance each year, so to give themselves preparation against the best.
Last year McGuinness said Murphy was “the most unselfish player on the entire panel.” Despite his own undoubted talent, Murphy was more than willing to fulfil a role in McGuinness’s system.
This was done for two reasons. Firstly, Murphy’s vanity levels are so non-existent he would always take team success over individual accolades. Even after that man of the match performance in the All-Ireland final he selflessly muttered “all that really matters is Sam.”
Murphy, last year, was always chasing fitness. A groin injury kept him out of the first two league outings; losses against Down in Newry and then Laois in Letterkenny.
He returned, emphatically, to score a goal in 12 seconds against Cork before terrorising Mayo in Ballyshannon on St Patrick’s weekend to stabilise Donegal’s season.
At Croke Park against Dublin in late March, Murphy was named man of the match on a night in which he played only 59 minutes and Donegal lost by nine points.
His withdrawal was the end of his league campaign, with a personal tally of 2-19, or 49 per cent, of the 2-45 Donegal had collectively accumulated in the four league games in which he had played.
Collateral knee ligament damage made for two months on the sidelines, including Donegal’s championship opener against Cavan at Breffni Park.
Whether he was fit or not, an eager Murphy declared his availability that particular morning and while his manager was grateful of the gesture, he chose to hold his captain for the bigger challenges that lay ahead.
How right McGuinness was. Donegal took Sam Maguire to the Hills for only the second time.
Their predecessors of 1992 always claimed their biggest regret was, having the proverbial monkey off their back, their inability to follow-up on their triumph.
Confidence flowed through their veins but there was to be no repeat, in either Clones or Croke Park.
On Saturday night, Murphy became only the second Donegal man ever to hit nine points at Croke Park. And just like the man who managed it before, Manus Boyle in the 1992 All-Ireland final, Murphy scored four from play and five frees. “Murphy was exceptional once again,” Boyle said of Murphy’s performance.
The most impressive thing about Murphy’s showing on Saturday was the level of responsibility he is willing to take. When his sidekick Colm McFadden was forced to retire with a tight hamstring inside of 11 minutes, Murphy single-handedly kept his team in the game against a team whose pre-season took them to a much more advanced stage than Donegal in early February.
“Michael showed great leadership,” McGuinness said afterwards. “Some of the lads in the forward line with him were relatively inexperienced and he led the line very well.
“We were missing Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher there around the middle of the park – all natural leaders – and Michael did excellently.”
Murphy showed for every ball and even his four points from play showed the variation in his talents.
On 26 minutes, Anthony Thompson boomed in a ball from almost the same squared foot as Lacey had in the All-Ireland final. Murphy easily won the aerial ball against Michael Foley but opted for precision over power, placing the ball just over the crossbar instead of under it with the outside of his right foot.
Just over a minute into the second half, after a free-kick from Patrick McBrearty had tailed off harmlessly, Murphy smacked over with the clenched fist from all of 20 metres.
Then, two points in as many minutes, the first of which was taken on the left following a ball broken by Ross Wherity and then, having rounded Foley with a fabulous burst of acceleration, driving over on the run with the right.
“Michael Murphy was simply colossal and he single-handedly carried the fight to Kildare,” 1992 All-Ireland winning manager Brian McEniff said. “He certainly led by a example.”
Interestingly, Murphy scored nine points while being allowed to flitter in and out the field.
His father Mick will always maintain his best position is centre-forward and from there he can influence matters from deep, while others will insist his natural habitat should be as close to goal as possible. That’s a matter of opinion but much of Donegal’s evolution centres around the positioning of Murphy.
On Wednesday he was at it again as DCU progressed to the last eight of the Sigerson Cup with a 0-17 to 0-9 win over Queen’s University. Murphy again kicked nine points, this time five from play and four frees. Again, he alternated between the middle of the field, when his side faced the wind, and the edge of the square when it was at their backs
Whatever your opinion on where Michael Murphy is best served, if he can keep performing like he did this week, then Superman will be wearing those pyjamas for quite some time yet.