A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and by that I mean Michael Murphy.
His winning goal in Sunday’s county final against St Michael’s was extraordinary.
No one else could have scored it. Star could have caught it, but he couldn’t have finished it. The perfect goal.
His description of it afterwards was unwittingly hilarious. I recorded it on TG4 and watched it back on Tuesday. “What do you remember about the goal?” he was asked.
“It was a brilliant ball in, Joe Givens played a lovely ball in as I say (I nearly fell off the chair at this point). As I say, I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I just turned and let fly and, thankfully to God, some days they go for you!”
If you have been lucky enough to see the goal, you will know this bears no resemblance to reality.
What actually happened was this: Joe Givens got the ball 60 yards out and blasted it as long and as high as he could towards the square. Murphy, running across the square, jumped in the air from right to left. As the full-back reached up to catch it, Michael reached over his shoulder from behind and caught it two handed. As he landed, he twisted his body and drove an inch perfect pile-driver into the far corner.
The goalie didn’t move. It was a goal from the archives of the ‘Roy of the Rovers’ comic books. Joe’s kick in would have won the ‘Gunner Brady high kick trophy.’ It was the sort of impossible ball that would leave most full forward lines fuming. But for Michael, it was “a lovely ball in.”
He scored 1-7 from the winners’ total of 1-8 - 1-3 from play, three frees and one ‘45.’
‘Forty fives’ are no bother. When Michael was under-12, he was kicking them off the ground. When the child prodigy reached the age of 17, he led the club seniors to their first ever intermediate title. A year later, his Donegal Minor team became Ulster champions.
An Ulster under-21 title soon followed. As a 22-year-old, he led his county to an Ulster title and his tiny club to a Senior Championship. As I said when I first saw him kicking a ball, he is very very special.
One of the best selling tee-shirts on the ‘Hurling Mad’ sports clothes website is a tee shirt bearing the logo “Michael Murphy’s lovely points.” The aficionados might be interested to know that according to the website description, the tee shirt has ‘a quarter turned body to eliminate centre crease.’ A snip at E17.99.
In the quarter-final against St Eunan’s, Michael also scored a brilliant goal to win the replay. You can see it on ‘Vimeo,’ Jerome Quinn’s excellent web service. Michael takes the catch one handed with his left and on the run, takes it down in one movement onto his right foot. The keeper’s first sight of it is when he is retrieving it from the net.
A particular mystique surrounds the great high fetchers. When Geoffrey McGonigle and myself were in our pomp with Dungiven, every game was an occasion. I had pace and finishing power. Predators always bring excitement. But Geoffrey was the daddy. He had every skill and he was a magnificent high catcher to boot, which meant he could do it all himself.
At O’ Cathain Park every high ball in was an event. More often than not Geoffrey came down with it and worked his magic. Sadly, the high catching manual was a closed book for me. I had hands like hooves, so I never experienced the thrill of shouting “Stay down Geoffrey I’m climbing.” An instruction Geoff never had to give to me.
For Glenswilly folk, Michael is a great pleasure. He resisted the lure of some Dublin super clubs who queued for his signature with open cheque books. He resisted the lure of Aussie Rules. A dyed in the wool Glenswilly man, he described last Sunday as the greatest day of his life.
The Swilly manager, Gary McDaid, reminded the reporters afterwards that Michael came back to club training on the Tuesday night after Donegal had agonisingly lost out to the Dubs.
I have strong links to the parish. My great grandmother Kitty Kelly, sister of Edward ‘The King’ Kelly, was born and bred in the old stone cottage beside Glenswilly Chapel.
My father remembers being up there as a child. Kitty had a beard and he recalls sitting on her knee as she smoked her pipe. The King himself came to Dungiven as an old man and is buried at St Patrick’s Chapel. I now have planning permission to build a house near the old ruins, looking down over the Valley.
They say around Glenswilly that Michael was always spoilt rotten. Well, if I had a son like that, I would spoil him rotten. “Do you want a custard cream son, ah go on, take two . . . !”
The best thing about him is that he is a fine young man. After the Ulster Final, himself and his father wept together. On Sunday, Michael was keen to point out the value of the win for the Glenswilly people. “The club is where it starts and ends” he said. When he says it, he means it.
His year has been astonishing. Who will ever forget Kevin McStay’s commentary on Donegal’s winning point against Kildare or Ger Treacy’s radio commentary that same day, starting with: “It’s a very bad ball into Murphy.” Bad ball my arse.
Michael promptly beat the two Kildare defenders to it, coming from behind, flicked it up with the foot, slid along the sideline, then twisted and turned before delivering the ball back. The rest is history, leaving Ger screaming on the radio like a man in the throes of sexual ecstasy.
As we left the park on Sunday, the sentence on everyone’s lips was: “Jim has to keep him at full forward next year.” Jim will.
When the full terror of the man is unleashed on opposing full-backs, the Donegal jigsaw will be complete.
In the coming months, I will build my house beside Glenswilly Chapel.
And from then on, I will spend my free Sunday’s watching Michael Murphy playing football.
What could be better?