On a day of multiple positives one of the most poignant moments was when Michael Murphy shook the last few hands before he gripped Sam Maguire.
Enda Kenny was the second last to pass on his congratulations, a disappointed man considering his Mayo roots, but the Taoiseach was still dignified to acknowledge his native county were beaten by the best team on the day.
Murphy then stretched his hand out to Liam O’Neill, Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. “Sorry to hear about your sister Liam,” Murphy said. “ I really am.”
O’Neill’s sister Barbara had succumbed to a long illness in England the day before Donegal’s second All-Ireland triumph. On Saturday evening a minute’s silence was observed in Crettyard before the Laois ladies football finals and on Sunday prior to the throw-in in Croke Park a minute’s silence was observed. Moments, though, before Murphy was about to replicate his hero Anthony Molloy’s footsteps in lifting Sam Maguire, he still had the wherewithal to think about others
He might be only 23 and a relatively young man but the Glenswilly clubman is the embodiment of Jim McGuinness’s Donegal - approachable, honest, diligent and humble. McGuinness has long since maintained the men who wear the green and gold are not only trying to win matches, they are the representative body of a county as a whole. Murphy fits that mould to a tee.
The following night, Monday, he was on the stage at the Diamond in Donegal Town after, what his manager had predicted, would be the “best journey of their lives,” from the Burlington to more homely shores.
The Diamond and its subsidiary streets was packed with well-wishers, with some estimates suggesting there was up to 20,000 in attendance, but as the rain crackled off the umbrellas the dark night was lit with smiles.
“I want to thank all of you for coming out here tonight and I want to thank the players for their massive commitment over the past number of years,” Murphy said. “We’re good friends off the pitch and we’re good friends on the pitch as well. Winning this will be a memory we will cherish all of our lives. I’d like to thank the players for that.”
As iconic as Murphy’s goal was, All-Irelands are not won thanks to a single moment or a rippling of the net. There are thousands of laps ran around the pitch, tonnes of weight lifted in the gym and hours of meticulous planning.
“I really want to thank each and every one of the backroom team,” Murphy said. “They help us perform as best we can without any problems. The sponsors and the county board, thanks for everything.”
Murphy and Colm McFadden, who scored 2-8 between them on All-Ireland final day, are the jewels in Donegal’s attacking crown. But an indication of the level of professionalism in McGuinness’s set-up is the fact his number two, Rory Gallagher, is still the record scorer in the Ulster championship, having scored 3-9 against Monaghan in 2002, which was the third season in succession he topped the provincial scoring charts.
At 33, Gallagher, a native of the picturesque little Fermanagh village of Belleek, is still fresh enough to wear a county jersey. However, nowadays, a bit like McGuinness, he’s a scholar of the game with an encyclopaedic knowledge. One thing he has that McGuinness does not have, though, and this is where Murphy comes in, is an intimate knowledge of forward play.
“To Rory Gallagher, who’s been absolutely brilliant for Donegal football,” Murphy continued. “He brings an absolute wealth of knowledge and has an unbelievable workrate. He really does. His drive and determination for football is something we thrive upon.”
And then, of course, there was a word for the revolutionary himself. McGuinness, in two years, has turned football on it’s head, off the pitch as well as on it, and that’s not just Donegal. The manager says continually it would’ve never been possible had it not been for players like Murphy taking everything he preaches on board. On the other hand, Murphy is unwilling to play down the role of McGuinness and the county’s supporters.
“I don’t know what other way I can dress it up, but what about Jim McGuinness?,” captain said of manager. “The vision Jim had a few years ago was something very few people would’ve had. To come from where we came from in just a couple of years to where we are now is something will be forever indebted to Jim McGuinness for.
“The people of Donegal owe him a massive, massive thanks. The man’s workrate, dedication and passion for Donegal football is second to none. Thanks a million Jim.
“And to you, the fans - thanks for the colour, the noise and the songs. Thanks for everything over this last couple of years, in fact this last 10 years, the last whatever amount of years! Unfortunately we hadn’t been able to provide you with the amount of success that you actually deserve. But in the last couple of years we’ve put things right and to have Sam here in front of you.”
It’s often said that Jim McGuinness leaves few stones unturned in his preparation but if the post-match is anything to go on, neither does Michael Murphy. He’s the sort of man you’re just glad he’s one of your own - a man who leads by example.