Last year was an unforgettable one for Michael Murphy but if the early indications of New Year are anything to go by then the Donegal captain already appears to be stepping onto the next level.
Murphy was man of the match in the All-Ireland football final in September, scoring an iconic goal and adding four further points in the 2-11 to 0-13 win over Mayo at Croke Park. In doing so, the Glenswilly forward became only the second Donegal man ever, after his idol Anthony Molloy, to lift Sam Maguire.
Murphy went under the knife twice last spring – firstly on a groin injury in January and he then required surgery when he suffered collateral knee ligament damage against Dublin in March at Croke Park – but has hit the ground running this term.
“It was tough last summer trying to gain fitness,” he said. “The Donegal medical team did a great job to give me the chance to come back and prove my fitness to play a part.”
Twenty-three-year-old Murphy has been in excellent form in 2013 for both county and college. In two outings for Jim McGuinness’s Donegal, the talisman has scored 0-15, while in three appearances for DCU in the Sigerson Cup he has registered 1-18.
One of those points, which came in last Thursday’s 2-10 to 0-6 quarter-final win over UCD, was a banana-shot with the outside of his right boot after Murphy left his old nemesis, Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll, for dead. It’s become something of a YouTube sensation.
“People might say that it’s not the time of year to be playing your best football and you should keep it till the middle of the summer but it’s just nice to be getting games under my belt,” Murphy said.
“It’s strange as when you play Sigerson you try and peak for that and then you try and peak again for the latter part of the National Football League and then the championship. It’s difficult but it’s a nice problem to have.”
Before their quarter-final win over UCD, DCU defeated Queen’s University Belfast 0-17 to 0-9 and University of Limerick 1-14 to 0-8.
On Friday, DCU take on the side Murphy believes to be the best in the competition, Dublin Institute of Technology, while Athlone IT and UCC are paired together in the other semi-final.
St Michael’s Antoin McFadden and Eamonn Doherty from St Eunan’s are also part of the DCU set-up, while Four Masters’ Oisin McGinty lines out for DIT. It’s a competition McGuinness also has fond memories of, having won it in 1998 and 1999 with IT Tralee and again, in 2001, in University of Ulster Jordanstown. Murphy played the last 20 minutes at Pearse Stadium in Salthill as DCU hammered NUI Maynooth 2-17 to 0-7.
“Anytime you go into the Sigerson you want to make the weekend,” Murphy said of the third level competition. “We’ve had three games so far, which is a longer route but one that hopefully will stand us in good stead.
“DIT will go into the weekend as favourites as they’ve a host of names from around the country but Sigerson Cup football is unpredictable and all four sides involved in Athlone will justifiably believe they can win it.
“Every inter-county footballer wants to win the Sigerson Cups as it’s a great brand of football. It’s as close to, or even at inter-county football.”
Two inter-county players that will not be available to DCU coach Niall Moyna are housemates of Murphy’s – Termon goalkeeper Michael Boyle and Cork centre-fielder Aidan Walsh.
The pair were the high profile victims of new rules from the Higher Education Authority, which prevents players who have studied for six years or, in their case, taken more than two college courses from playing third-level hurling or football.
Both the Central Appeals Committee and the Disputes Resolution Authority upheld the earlier appeals, despite the players’ appeal.
“In Gaelic we’re being encouraged to go back to college and try and educate ourselves as much as possible to stay in the country and not emigrate,” Murphy said. “Some colleges are putting supports in place to help with scholarships but it’s very difficult when players are stopped from playing their own amateur game of Gaelic football.
“I’m all for an age limit but Aidan Walsh is 23 and is a first year student in Biology and PE with view to becoming a teacher, a man who has only ever played two years Sigerson. If he was playing along with Michael Boyle he would really go and help to promote the sport.
“They’re not being given the opportunity to do that and in the years to come many of the colleges mightn’t put in the support systems.”
Murphy is also studying Biology and PE and is in his final semester, currently on teaching practice at St Mark’s at Springfield in Tallaght, where he will finish on Friday, May 24 – two days before Donegal’s Ulster championship quarter-final against Tyrone.
“I’ve 12 weeks left now and between now and the summer it’s a matter of just continuing to combine the football and academics until the summer,” he continued. “The commuting is quite difficult so it’ll be great to get up home for the summer and the championship.
“There’s a few of us coming up and down – myself, Paul Durcan, Martin O’Reilly, Antoin McFadden and Declan Walsh. There’s good camaraderie but for me it would be hard to beat being home all the time if the chance arose. But it’s about getting experience and the degree for now and hopefully by the time the championship comes around that will be under my belt.”