Michael Murphy rolls back the years to dominate another square

Michael Murphy gave us a glimpse of his past brilliance on Saturday. Past brilliance as one of the best Number 14s in GAA history. He has dominated hundreds of ‘squares’ for the best part of a decade.

Michael Murphy rolls back the years to dominate another square

In recent years, he’s had no choice but to be one of Donegal’s primary ball-winners in the middle third. Once he had steadied the Donegal ship in Hyde Park, he moved back into familiar waters – lording it on the edge of the parallelogram.

Football purists across the country will be pondering just how good would Donegal be with a “M” full-forward line of Murphy-Mac Niallias-McBrearty? Hopefully, we’ll see all three of them on the same line next year.

Do Donegal really need Murphy in midfield? Unfortunately, ‘yes’ is the answer. Roscommon won much more primary possession in the second half when the Donegal captain was inside. Murphy will be required in the middle third against Tyrone.

All the Donegal forwards scored on Saturday but they will need to raise their game to a new level against a tenacious Tyrone defence. Ryan McHugh handled lots of leather on Saturday but in truth, he had the shackles put on him for the second consecutive game and he can expect more of the same in Ballybofey. Conor Meyler will probably track McHugh.

That will put more pressure on Paddy McGrath and Eoghan Ban Gallagher to be the ball-carriers against Tyrone. But will they be fit? Both have injuries after Saturday as does their keeper, Shaun Patton.

He’s already joining the ranks of Cluxton, Beggan, Brody, Lavelle and Morgan as influential netminders. The Roscommon netminder, Colm Lavin, must be scratching his head.

Roscommon’s Achilles has been their restarts. When teams really target his kickouts, Roscommon struggle. Is it poor technique or just not enough good ball-winners? Roscommon have good fielders but they’re just meeting much more physical oppositions.

They never stopped trying and have some beautiful crafty forwards. They’ll need a few years in Division 1 and a few winters of S&C to really compete in the Super 8s. One of Shaun Patton’s restarts was very similar to Stephen Cluxton. He hit a boomer over the midfielders, a slight hand-flick by Murphy onto McHugh who popped it to MacNellias. A simple point opportunity but Odhran went for the jugular. Off the butt of the post. Unlucky. They’ll need luck in Ballybofey.

Stephen Cluxton loves when Paul Flynn is on the pitch. If Cluxton was competing in Carnoustie in the Open he would be using irons and wedges. But when Paul Flynn is around he can take out the driver and belt it down the flanks. With 62 minutes played and the score at 1-11 to 0-11, Cluxton drives it 60 metres down to Flynn.

A mid-air hand-flick to Jack McCaffrey. Jack toe-flicks the ball neatly into his hands without breaking a stride. A pop pass to Ciaran Kilkenny and he drills a half-goal chance over the bar.

Dublin pile the pressure on Niall Morgan’s immediate restart, win a free and Dean Rock puts five between the teams.

With the exception of Cluxton, every line on the Dublin team contributed on the scoresheet. Add in their subs’ contribution of two points and you can see Dublin’s true worth. They may not be as flamboyant as previous teams under Jim Gavin, but they are probably his most hard-working team.

They do whatever it takes. The team’s performance comes before individual performance. They were asked to man-mark. They did it.

The Donnellys, Sludden, Harte and McAliskey are all within a fingertip of Cooper, Murchan, Small and McMahon at all times. No scores for Sludden or the Donnelly brothers. Cian O’Sullivan is the designated sweeper. How is this created? Mannion leaves his comfortable corner-forward position and fills a half-forward slot.

Howard drops to midfield, McCarthy drops to half-back. O’Sullivan is free to intercept. Mannion and Scully empty the tanks and are replaced after 50 minutes. They don’t score but they won’t worry about that.

They will worry about losing four consecutive kickouts to Tyrone in the last ten minutes. Two over the sideline and two breaking balls lost. Brian Howard is off the field at this stage. Coincidence? The skill levels of the Dublin players are increasing all the time. No coincidence. The next time you watch the reigning champions play, watch out for how many Dublin players can spin or pirouette around the attempted tackle of an opponent. It gives them that extra second on the ball. An extra second on the ball for a Dublin footballer can mean another score on the scoreboard. Dublin will get a lot of seconds on the ball against Roscommon. Expect 25 or more scores in their final group game.

Another wonderful and memorable day in Newbridge for football fans. Two teams that left every once of energy between the whitewash. Plenty of high fielding marks and gutsy and brave defending on both sides for the purists to savour. Kildare needed Kevin Feeley and Daniel Flynn to be at the top of their game to win and their man-markers to nullify the Galway trio of Walsh/Comer/Burke. David Hyland, Peter Kelly and Kevin Flynn were the Kildare man-markers. They can be extremely proud of their honest endeavours and did all they could to muster another famous summer day in Newbridge.

In contrast, Feeley didn’t score and Flynn got caught by the linesman early in the second half. Daniel Flynn and his two full-forward buddies all scored from play but ill-discipline cost them dearly. Brophy was black-carded and Neil Flynn was handed a yellow.

Kildare had seven scorers in total but every Galway player numbered 5-15 inclusive scored from open play. Add in veteran subs Sean Armstrong and Gary O’Donnell to the scoring mix and that’s a total of 13 players. Impressive. In fact, every Galway player numbered 1-15 should have registered scores in St Conleth’s as Ruairi Lavelle and all of his full-back colleagues had opportunities to score.

Lavelle and his full-back trio were very impressive though in dealing with the aerial bombardment that the Lillies threw at them in the first half. Kyne, Sean Andy and Galway’s most impressive defender in the championship to date, Eoin Keirns, were immense. Keirns produced some brilliant half-blocks that prevented certain Kildare scores.

Outside Keirns, Sean Kelly was fantastic. He, along with Damien Comer and Shane Walsh, has scored in all five championship games for Galway to date. But it’s his bravery under the breaking ball that’s making him one of the contenders for ‘Young Footballer of the Year’. He attacked Mark Donnellan’s kickouts with great ferocity in the second half.

Galway really struggled to come to grips with Kildare’s short kickout policy in the first half. Mark Donnellan popped at least eight 20-metre restarts to his right-hand pocket and this gave Kildare a great platform to launch attacks. Galway got to grips with his restarts in the second half. The Dan Flynn sending-off was a big help to Galway in this regard. When Kildare were forced long, young Cooke and the wily Tom Flynn were trojan.

Flynn is now the Tribe’s midfield general in Paul Conroy’s absence. Worrying for Galway, though, was the sight of Michael Daly joining Conroy on the injury list. He had bagged two superb points before his enforced injury inside ten minutes. The final instalment of the Super 8 will call on every panel’s strength in depth and Galway can’t afford any more additions to the sick-bay in 2018.

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