Derry boss Rory Gallagher pays tribute to 'phenomenal' Michael Murphy

Derry manager Rory Gallagher has paid tribute to Michael Murphy following the Donegal legend's announcement last week that he was retiring from the inter-county game after a glorious career.

Michael Murphy celebrates Donegal's 2012 All Ireland win with Rory Gallagher. (Photo: Cathal Noonan  - Presseye)
Michael Murphy celebrates Donegal's 2012 All Ireland win with Rory Gallagher. (Photo: Cathal Noonan - Presseye)

Having made his county debut in 2007, Murphy was already making waves with his beloved Donegal when Gallagher joined Jim McGuinness' management team in late 2010, giving the current Oak Leaf boss a box seat as the Glenswilly star hit top gear and captained the Tír Chonaill men to the 2012 All Ireland title.

The three-time All star led Donegal to 10 of the last 12 Ulster finals, winning five, with Gallagher describing Murphy as among the best players he has ever seen.

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"There's no doubt about it, he'd be up there in terms of the best I have dealt with," explained the Derry manager, "His talent is exceptional but his presence and his strength of character has been unparalleled for Donegal and Glenswilly. There are no words that can describe it.

"It is only when you are in that environment with him that you can see it and believe it. Things like injuries just don't matter to him. He didn't believe you could be injured when it came to it, he just played. It was scary.

"Even if you look at the Kildare game (All Ireland Quarter-final in 2011) when we didn't start him. The medical team were telling us he was injured but possibly fit for 15-20 minutes at the most. I'm not criticising the medical team in any way but he didn't agree and we ended up bringing him on 20 minutes in and he plays the rest of the game and extra-time and is sprinting flat out.

"He was just a huge, huge character with the talent and attitude to match."

Gallagher said Murphy's love for his county was evident from the moment he joined the Donegal set up but it was Murphy's mental resolve which impressed the Fermanagh native most.

"When I got involved with him at the end of 2010, Michael had already played a few years and was coming off the back of bringing Donegal to an All Ireland Under 21 final, albeit cruelly missing a penalty, but what was remarkable from day one was that his love for Donegal was unparalleled. Also his mental resolve, his toughness and his resilience. His ability to play for the team was something I had never come close to experiencing before.

"It is something that helped drive on some massive momentum within the whole squad. Obviously he was still so young but he carried the fight and had a hunger and desire that was second to none."

With his ability beyond question, Gallagher recalled a conversation with Murphy which he said perfectly illustrated the Donegal legend's attitude to football.

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"He has been at a phenomenal level for such a long time. Donegal wouldn't have come to where they are without him, there's no doubt about that," reflected Gallagher.

"To lead your county into 10 Ulster finals in 12 years and to win five - but also to come back from the setbacks of losing a number of those. To bring Donegal to two All Ireland finals, the way he brought Glenswilly to an Ulster Club final, it says everything about him.

"I remember having a conversation with him, I think it was coming up to the 2013 county final. I had parted ways with Donegal but he was also playing International Rules at the time and the Ireland game was on the Saturday with the Donegal County final on Sunday. I remember me and him just chatting and Michael saying, "What do you think?"

"I think I said to him, "Michael, you just make up your mind and do it!"

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"He played in the compromised rules on the Saturday and was 'Man of the Match' in the county final on the Sunday. That says it all.

"He is an immense presence and don't get me wrong, he would cut your throat in a training game or in the middle of 'battle', but he was brilliant fun as well. He was unbelievable in his ability to make time for younger people, whether that was after games or even after training. He had great manners but was central to all the fun, the enjoyment and the craic that was going on."

With Derry likely to resume pitch sessions next week and a new pre-season on the horizon, Gallagher said they'll be looking to hit the ground running in what looks a very competitive Division Two in 2023.

"The boys are working away with Peter (Hughes) and we're hoping to maybe get back out on the pitch next week. It's a stage where the boys are getting their bodies right and getting ready for another big pre-season.

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"We are at a stage where we are looking forward to getting the boys back in, getting a decent amount of work in. We'll get into the New Year and try to hit the ground running for the league and take it from there. There will be no big targets or meetings about targets. The boys know where we want to go, it doesn't need said and we'll be giving everything to try and get there."