Big weekend for the Murtagh household. Well, bigger weekend than usual.
Three brothers on an inter-county panel lends itself to a fair share of important Sundays, but tomorrow’s outing to Salthill carries far greater weight that any Roscommon fixture this year. Or, indeed, years previous.
Ciaráin, 24, will lead the county behind the local pipe band for a second consecutive July. Younger brother Diarmuid, 22, will follow suit. A hamstring injury ruled the latter out of last year’s drawn and replayed games, meaning he’s never featured in a Connacht final nor has he ever crossed bows with Galway in the championship. That changes tomorrow.
The youngest of the three Murtagh brothers — Brian, 27, is the eldest — is thankful for having made it to the startline free of bumps, bruises, and knocks. A quad injury at the start of last season disrupted his final year at U21. He returned to full fitness late in the spring and took his place in the full-forward line for the county’s Connacht SFC opener away to New York.
He resumed this inside role for the quarter-final against Leitrim. The week before the Sligo semi-final, his hamstring went.
Sitting in the stand at MacHale Park as Galway hit them for 2-9 during the opening half an hour of the Connacht final replay made for tough watching. “You are kind of disappointed, you are angry and yet you are still hopeful we can bring it back,” recalls Diarmuid.
“If you are conceding two goals in the first 20 minutes against a top team, it is very hard to bring it back. I thought we let ourselves down the second day against Galway, we didn’t do ourselves justice.”
Diarmuid worked his way through the injury and saw the last half an hour of their qualifier defeat to Roscommon.
And naturally enough, given 2016 was such a stop-start season for him, he was only mad for road come January. Their FBD league opener was against IT Sligo. Five minutes from the end, the hamstring gave way. It was March 25 before he was back in the starting fold.
“When I got injured against IT Sligo, I was absolutely shattered. I remember nearly putting my fist through one of the doors in Boyle. I went in and I just slammed it.”
More rehab, more physio, more time watching on. But again, he came out the right side of it.
Named at full-forward for the 2-23 to 1-9 win over Leitrim, it was his first championship start in 13 months. Brian’s introduction 10 minutes from time meant all three brothers were stood inside the four white lines of Dr Hyde Park.
“I’m just happy to be playing football injury-free,” says Diarmuid. “It’s the longest run I’ve got without being injured since I was a minor. It’s a big boost to my confidence.”
Ciaráin says: “Look, he has had a lot of injuries over the last number of years, but he has a good few weeks of training under his belt now. He is getting the fitness levels up. It’s still not where he wants to be, he’s still panting a lot! Once we are all playing football, we are all happy.”
As inter-county captains go, Ciaráin doesn’t fit the regular description of seasoned campaigner, late twenties. Sure, he was just 23 when it was thrust upon him last spring.
“A lot of people usually say it’s a more older, experienced player that gets captaincy. There are a lot of young lads around the panel, though. We don’t have that many old lads, lads who would be in their late twenties. There’s Seanie McDermott, Fintan Cregg, and Conor Devaney. The management last year were happy enough to give it to me and Kevin McStay stuck with me again this year. I was happy to get it.”
So, what are the chances of a satisfied Murtagh household tomorrow evening?
“Galway have pushed on from last year,” says Ciaráin. “It’ll be tough, but we are not going to be afraid of Galway just because they clipped us last year. They are a good team but we’ll be going with a gameplan and we’ll be hoping to perform for 70 minutes.
“Just because we have a relatively young panel, you still can’t look at Sunday from the point of view of it not being now or never. You are not going to keep getting to Connacht finals every year. Sligo, Mayo, Galway — those teams are going to be fighting for it every year.
“It’s not every day you get to back-to-back Connacht finals and when you leave the last one behind you, you want to win this one and build on that. We’ll be going out to win this Connacht final.
“The drawn game was there for the taking last year. The performance in the replay wasn’t good enough. We want to try and rectify the mistakes we made that day.”
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