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'When I was in the hospital bed last August I considered quitting football'

Diarmuid Murtagh underwent an eye operation to repair a detached retina and wasn’t sure if he’d play for Roscommon again.

Diarmuid Murtagh was one of Roscommon's heroes on Sunday.
Diarmuid Murtagh was one of Roscommon's heroes on Sunday.
Image: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

BAGGING 1-3 IN the Connacht final was a stunning way for Diarmuid Murtagh to mark his return to the Roscommon team after being dropped for the semi-final against Mayo.

Murtagh made his first start of the season in the quarter-final win over Leitrim, scoring three points, but found himself relegated to the bench for the seismic win in Castlebar.

“I wasn’t playing against Mayo because I wasn’t training well,” he admits. “It’s as simple as that. And that’s the way it is with us.”

His goal early in the second-half helped propel Roscommon to a comeback defeat of Galway in Salthill to claim their second Nestor Cup in three years.

The 24-year-old had already missed the entire league campaign while he recovered from eye surgery, a procedure that left him considering giving up on his inter-county ambitions.

Murtagh suffered the injury during an innocuous training ground incident in the build-up to Roscommon’s final Super 8s game against Dublin last August. As he went to catch a ball, it slipped through his hands and struck him on the top of his head.

While a headache and blurred vision affected him, he passed a subsequent concussion test and lined out against the All-Ireland champions.

“I played against Dublin last year in the Super 8s and my vision was very blurred. So I knew there was something wrong after that and I had to get it checked.

It ended up being a detached retina just from a simple ball that hit me on the top of the head in training. I thought it might have been a bit of concussion or maybe my eye-sight was just getting worse. Little did I know.”

With his eye-sight continuing to deteriorate, a local Roscommon optician referred him to a specialist in Dublin.

It was only then that the enormity of the problem became apparent. To avoid him potentially losing sight in that eye, surgery was required immediately.

A lengthy six-month lay-off followed, with the St Faithleach’s man precluded from doing any form of exercise for months.

“When I was in the hospital bed last August I considered quitting football. I was like, ‘Why am I doing this for?’ I didn’t think I’d ever get back playing.

“Before this campaign started I considered not going back, just out of that injury – no other reason. And I’m delighted to be back now and I’m going to enjoy this.

Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith celebrate Murtagh and Enda Smith celebrate the win over Mayo. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was very emotional at the end when the final whistle went because the only thing that keeps you going is days like this – when you have a serious injury like that.

“It’s definitely worth it and I’m happy I’m back now. Credit has to go to Anthony (Cunningham), Ian (Daly) and Mark (Dowd). They were so patient with me coming back. They let me come back within my own time-frame and I’m delighted they put the trust in me out there to play (against Galway).

Days like this is why I worked to come back.”

He was cleared to return in February but was cautious about his comeback, eventually featuring off the bench in their final league game against Kerry.

Murtagh had never scored a goal in championship football for Roscommon before Sunday and he admits he was determined to end his goal drought.

“I had a few lads saying that to be me now, so the pressure was coming on,” he smiles. “I think if you read the programme there I must be the only one without a goal, but no, I’m delighted to get it.

I just saw Cregger (Cathal Cregg) coming with the ball and I knew someone had to go and meet him so I just stuck inside, I knew he’d lay it off to me.

“When Cathal has the ball and he comes at pace, it takes two men to come to him. So that’s why Sean Andy (O Ceallaigh) kind of veered towards him and then I got the space in behind so it was great work from Cathal.

Cathal Cregg celebrates after the game with fans Cathal Cregg set-up the game's only goal. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“From then I only had one thing on my mind, back of the net. The way the game was going, it was going to be very tight so I thought a goal might swing it our way at that stage.

“Any of the goalkeepers for Galway, they’re good shot-stoppers so I knew I’d have to be fairly precise and low because he would have saved it if it was his height. There doesn’t be much going through your head when you’re going for goal only to make sure you score it.

Hopefully it does starting coming a little bit easier now, but no, it wasn’t in my head at all. If it was three points that I got instead of the goal, I’d be happy out, once I’m contributing to the team and helping them win, that’s the main thing for us.

“It’s all about the team, really. I know it’s an old cliche, but it’s true. If you’re not about the team, you’re not going to win anything.”

He formed a potent full-forward line with Conor Cox, who transferred from his native Kerry in the off-season. It was just the second competitive game they’ve have started together and Murtagh hopes it’s the start of a long partnership between the pair, who scored 1-8 of Roscommon’s 1-13 total.

“Coxy’s a great player. We’re delighted to have him, he’s a big influence on the rest of us.

“He’s a very experienced player, he has good experience with Kerry and colleges and everything, he’s a classy footballer. It’s very easy to play with him and we’re delighted to have him, he fits in very well with the group.

“He’s very accurate and you know when you give him the ball something’s going to come out of it. Very easy to play with and I look forward to hopefully playing many more years with him hopefully.”

Liam Silke with Niall Kilroy Liam Silke takes on Niall Kilroy. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Roscommon are the first team into the Super 8s and they’re determined to give a better account of themselves this time around after dispatching Mayo and Galway in Connacht.

“We are not going to the Super 8s to play three games of high competitiveness and then walk away,” says midfielder Tadhg O’Rourke.

We are going to the Super 8s to get to the next round. Last year is going to stand to us, some big experiences last year, we’ll enjoy a bit of downtime in the next day or two, and then we’ll concentrate on Super 8s.

“I think at this stage, we have shown we are able to compete with the top teams. It is just consistency that we are striving to get. That is exactly what we will get now in the Super 8s, three massive games, where we can just try and consistently compete. That’s what we are looking forward.”

Murtagh adds: “You’re just hoping that will just encourage us to go on and be more competitive on the national stage, and that’s what we’re going to look to do now.

“It’s that lack of consistency that we’ve had the last number of years and we want to get rid of that.

“A lot of people would have said after winning it in 2017 that we wouldn’t win another Connacht title for another seven years, and that’s not what we want to do, we want to bring a bit more consistency to Roscommon over the next couple of years.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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