Bonner managed Murphy for five seasons James Crombie/INPHO

'He's not going to be lost for Donegal for too long' - Murphy backed for future county senior role

Former Donegal manager Declan Bonner pays tribute to the retired Michael Murphy, and ponders if a move into management awaits the Glenswilly man.

ONE ALL-IRELAND TITLE. Three All Stars awards. Five Ulster crowns.

But the numbers do not begin to capture the impact Michael Murphy had on Donegal, nor indeed upon Gaelic football as a whole.

Wednesday’s announcement that the Glenswilly man has called time on his inter-county playing career changes the scope of the task facing the county’s new management team of Paddy Carr and Aidan O’Rourke.

Both on and off the field, there is now a significant gap to fill.

Former boss Declan Bonner knows more than most the influence of the 33-year-old.

“What he’s done over the last 15, 16 years is just unbelievable,” Bonner tells The42.

“People talk about his performance on the pitch, Everything he’d done in relation to preparation, training sessions, he has the complete package to be quite honest.

“He led by example…It was never about Michael, it was always about the greater good of the team, what was best for the team at all stages.

“Outstanding servant, and a massive, massive loss to the Donegal senior team moving into 2023.”

michael-murphy Murphy captained the county from the age of 21 Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Nonetheless, Bonner doesn’t envisage that the end of this chapter will close the book on Murphy’s involvement with Tír Chonaill for good.

“I’m sure he’s not going to be lost for Donegal for too long. I would feel he’ll be back in some capacity, head coach or management in the not too distant future,” he outlines.

“He’s very astute in terms of how the game and what’s expected, he’d read the game very well, looking at game plans and looking at what’s required.

“He’s managed a minor team (Glenswilly) to a minor county final. The next step is probably coming and getting involved in the academy end of things.

“But Michael can move straight into senior, whether it is management or in a coaching capacity. I’ve no doubt that’s going to happen, because he knows the game inside out, he’s a very very smart fella, and also, he’ll get the respect of the players that are going to be there.

“It’s a big, big loss. There’s no doubt. The incoming management of Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Carr, it’s probably not one they envisaged when they took on the job. But the time has come for Michael, and Michael has made his decision. And we wish all the best.”

michael-murphy-raises-the-sam-maguire Murphy hoists the Sam Maguire Cup in 2012 Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Donegal talisman’s game down through the years is the manner in which his leadership shone through so clearly to those watching from the stands or on TV.

To captain a top-tier county for over a decade speaks to his totemic status to the team.

“Michael wasn’t one for shouting or balling, but when he had to, he would come out. Michael basically did his talking in how he performed on the pitch, how he performed in training, night-in, night-out,” Bonner details.

“Every session that  Michael took part in, and he didn’t miss too many sessions in the five years I was there, it was basically done at championship pace. Michael never did anything at half-measure. It was full-on, and that’s exactly what he expected from everybody else.

“To me, that’s what’s going to be a void that will be difficult to fill. What an outstanding servant.”

But ultimately, the day that Donegal would reconvene for a new season without Michael Murphy was an inevitable one.

“I felt coming out of Clones when we lost to Armagh in the qualifiers, I knew myself that I had come to the end of my term, and I wasn’t going to be back in there,” Bonner reflects.

“I just felt that a number of players were in the same boat. We lost Neil McGee a couple of months back. Again, an outstanding servant to Donegal football over a period of 17 years.

“Michael was contemplating. He gave himself time to think about it. He didn’t make any hasty decisions. He just feels now is the right time to move away. He’s put his body through an awful lot. Every training session was done at championship pace. There were no half-measures.

“Time doesn’t stand still for anyone. And Michael, no more than any of the top players, you have a decision to make: When do you bow out? Michael bowed out at the very, very top. He probably feels that the body probably couldn’t take another sustained year at that level, because it’s hugely demanding.”

And he will go down as perhaps the county’s greatest every footballer.

“The thing about Michael Murphy was, for such a big fella, six foot three, really powerful, quick, great hands, soft hands when required, he could kick off right or left. You look at his free-taking, anything from 45, 50 metres in, nine out of 10 it was going to go over the bar,” Bonner continues.

“People were on about ‘should he be inside [at full-forward]?’ Michael felt himself that whatever was required in terms of what was best for the team. He spent time inside and he would come out, Michael could play anywhere. He could read a game, he could see a game, he could see where the team needs a bit of bolstering at certain stages in the game. Michael was an all-round player. He had all the attributes that all the top players [have].

“What made him so special was apart from what he did on the pitch, [was] what he brought to the training ground, what he brought to the overall package in terms of being a top-class footballer. And that’s what makes him stand out as the player that he is.

“He’s such a proud Donegal man. Donegal, everything about Donegal, he just loves Donegal. He was proud to wear that Donegal jersey for the last 16 years as a senior intercounty player.

“Michael Murphy owes Donegal absolutely nothing, having been probably the greatest player ever to wear the green and gold for Donegal.

“Outstanding legacy and one that’s going to be a huge void to fill.”

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