Murphy was at the core of Donegal’s drive for success here, contributing half of their total, but his influence extended beyond scoretaking. He provided his team with a brilliant focal point and gave the second-half leadership that steered his side towards an All-Ireland date with Dublin in a fortnight.
That will be an evocative clash for Donegal football as they collide with the county their seniors trumped on a famous September afternoon in 1992 and indeed the game will represent the first All-Ireland football final a Donegal team has contested since that day.
If Murphy’s strong input was one key element in deciding this game, then the other indisputably centred on the fate that befell his marker Ciaran McDonald. The Tipperary captain is an inspirational player and for 32 minutes he fought a terrific tussle with Murphy, as his resolute and clever play only yielded one point from play to the Donegal man. But the Aherlow youngster’s night ended when referee Damien Brazil flashed a yellow card in the 32nd minute that coupled with a booking in the ninth minute, led to McDonald trooping off in disconsolate fashion. Both bookings seemed harsh.
In Tipperary manager John Evans’ eyes, the first yellow card was a moment of panic by the match official: “I think he just panicked with the first yellow but the referee’s entitled to be nervous just like everyone else.
“Ciarán was doing tremendously well and he had the upper hand on Michael Murphy in the first half. These are the decisions that are made and we have to abide by them.”
What was certain was how Donegal exploited the numerical advantage.
They led 0-5 to 0-1 after Murphy tapped over the free awarded following McDonald’s sending off and from there until the end, played intelligent and controlled football. Their rotating cast of midfielders – Conor Classon, Leo McLoone, Kevin Mulhern and Danny Curran – gave them a strong foothold, while in defence Paddy McGrath and Declan Walsh excelled.
The calm and alert Mark McHugh, son of Donegal great Martin, exerted a sizeable influence as well while James Carroll and Dermot Molloy assisted Murphy in the scoring stakes.
By the end of the third quarter Donegal led 0-8 to 0-3 and their leading attacking trio embellished their advantage to read 0-12 to 0-4 at the final whistle. But manager Jimmy McGuinness was quick to pinpoint the sending off as the moment when the match turned irrevocably in their favour.
“It changed the game. I feel for the lad. He’s a phenomenal player and it was a phenomenal tussle between himself and Michael before that. It definitely had a huge bearing and it freed things up for us around the middle.
“We’re delighted though. It’s great for the lads as four months ago this moment was a long way away. They’ve worked very hard to get here.”
After a stunning season, Tipperary ultimately limped out of the championship. Aside from the loss of McDonald, other factors hastened their exit. Munster final man-of-the-match Peter Acheson spent Friday night in hospital with illness and although he lined out here, he was unable to command midfield proceedings like he had in the provincial decider. Scores proved difficult for Tipperary to source and they only managed two points from play over the hour. Tipperary came desperately close to goaling twice but Aldo Matassa’s stinging drive in the 24th minute cannoned off the crossbar and in the 43rd minute Acheson’s low shot was tipped away by Peter Boyle.
Alan Moloney and Padraig O’Dwyer were shining lights for Tipperary yet Donegal were always difficult to break down, with their physical play and ploy of pulling 13 players behind the ball. But their persistent second-half battling in the face of impossible odds led to praise from Evans afterwards.
“I’m very proud. They went for 27 minutes with fourteen men but they didn’t lie down. When these lads line up with those U21s from last year and year before, Tipperary can have a bright senior team down the tracks.”
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy 0-6 (0-3f), D Molloy 0-3 (0-1f), J Carroll 0-2, L McLoone 0-1.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Carey 0-2 (0-1f), C Sweeney (0-1f), A Moloney 0-1 each.
DONEGAL: P Boyle; D Walsh, C Boyle, P McGrath; E Doherty, D Curran, K Mulhern; L McLoone, C Classon; D McLaughlin, D Molloy, T McKinley; A McFadden, M Murphy, M McHugh.
Subs: J Carroll for McLaughlin (half-time), P McNelis for McKinley (45), C Morrisson for McFadden (60), D Murphy for McGrath (60), S O’Kennedy for Curran (60)
TIPPERARY: K Kenrick; D Lynch, C McDonald, R Kiely; D Dwyer, J Coghlan, P O’Dwyer; A Moloney, P Acheson; S Carey, B O’Brien, A Matassa; C Sweeney, S Egan, M O’Dwyer.
Subs: P McEvoy for M O’Dwyer (ht), T Hanly for Matassa (45), B O’Meara for Egan (48), G Ryan for O’Brien (55), D Heffernan for Carey (60).
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).