WITH THE CLOCK on 75 minutes and Donegal a point down, their captain and leader Michael Murphy stepped up to take an all-important free-kick into the Canal End.

Michael Murphy kicking the late free to level matters at the death.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having kicked brilliantly from the ground already, he opted to take this one from his hands. Cool as a breeze, the Glenswilly man stole a few yards and cooly nailed the late, late free to ensure a 1-20 a-piece draw with Kerry.

“Aye, it was just in the vicinity and felt I’d take it out of the hands,” he said afterwards, just before boarding the Donegal bus in the bowels of the Hogan stand when asked for his thinking around that.

“Just get it over the bar.”

Plain and simple, that’s what he did. 

You must have been relieved when you did it so?

“You’re damn right,” Murphy grinned. “I missed one in the first half from a very similar scenario, so yeah, it was just good to have done it, it would have been disappointing to come out with nothing from the game.”

That, it would have been. It was an absolute ding-dong Super 8s battle in Croke Park, one which probably neither side deserved to lose. End to end football, a championship clash as tight as they come and no matter what, Donegal and Kerry could not be separated.

Murphy contributed a handsome 1-7 himself while Ryan McHugh was also outstanding for the Tír Chonaill outfit but it’s a measure of the player, and man, Murphy is that the overriding feeling afterwards wasn’t exactly joy afterwards.

“We’re disappointed in a way,” he said. “We had the lead, with a minute to go we were one up. Kerry are Kerry, in the way the game was ebbing and flowing.

“They came back and got the two points, and in the end we were happy to get the draw. But it doesn’t leave us much further either. We still have to go to Castlebar and win the game.

On the ball against Paul Murphy.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“But yeah, I suppose a point up with a minute to go, we would have wanted to close the game out. But not to be. It is what it is. Thanks be to God we pushed on, got the draw. It just keeps morale and everything high.”

It really was a second half for the ages, a titanic battle where momentum — and the lead — shifted back and forth again and again in a mesmerising match that was level 15 times throughout.

Declan Bonner’s men went in a point down at half time, but that only spurred Murphy and his troops on. He felt there was more in them — and thought the same as the final whistle sounded, he admits.

“We defended just so-so. I thought up front we weren’t really clicking until towards the end.”

Moments into the second period however, Murphy inspired that click like the true leader he is with back-to-back monster frees under pressure. But again, it’s what wasn’t done earlier on he focuses on. 

“Aye, there were a few at that time,” he nods when that particular pair of frees are mentioned. “I had missed a bad one in the first half, a very, very poor one, so it was good to do.

“But everybody chipped in. Oisin Gallen came in off the bench and got a couple of huge scores for us, we know it’s in him. We’re so delighted with him at the minute.

“Ryan McHugh was absolutely phenomenal and Paddy McBrearty was looking sharp, Jamie [Brennan] pushing on too, Michael Langan kicked a couple of big scores for us.

“We need everybody chipping in, that’s what you need, and everybody put their best foot forward.”

Ryan McHugh was brilliant for Donegal.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Kingdom’s 44th-minute goal was “disappointing,” and while his thoughts for his penalty in the 53rd minute were “just to try and hopefully hit the back of the net,” 29-year-old Murphy was encouraged his side were really finding their form at the same time. 

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More about the team than him.

“It was a good kick to get but like, whether we got the penalty or not at that stage we were starting to play well and that was more important.

“Coming down the stretch, we were getting stronger, and stronger, and stronger. It was just that three-minute period where Kerry got the back-to-back scores to go one up, that was the disappointing part.

“But apart from that there, we were stronger coming down the straight.

He added: “That’s the form of the Super 8s. It’s game on game. It’s great to be a part of it, and it was a great game to be a part of.”

There was ice in his veins as he took that last-gasp pressure free, and ice on his person afterwards with a pack strapped firmly to his knee; but Murphy assured he was fine and not a concern on Bonner’s growing injury list.

With key defenders Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Neil McGee and Paddy McHugh all sidelined, Murphy was pleased with his “tight-knit group” and the players who were thrown in at the deep end as replacements. 

Now they’re in a situation where it’s winner takes all at McHale Park in two weeks’ time.

“It leaves us in a scenario now that we’re going to Castlebar and we need a win against a very strong Mayo side in their own back yard,” he continued.

Murphy after the game.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The camaraderie and everything is great within the group, we’re a very, very tight unit and we’re looking forward to getting up the road, getting recovered and getting a few bodies back which I think we will have going to Castlebar.

“We know the venue down there, we played in it before in a must-win game at the back end of the National League a couple of years ago, so it’s going to be a huge game with everything on the line.”

One person who’ll be under the spotlight quite a lot in the run-up to the Group 1 showdown is Stephen Rochford. James Horan’s predecessor this time around is now in the Donegal backroom team.

Could that be an advantage?

“Listen, you use any edge you can,” Murphy concludes.

“Stephen has been an absolutely huge cog in the whole wheel, along with Gary [Boyle] and Declan and everybody who is there, they’re challenging every single one of us and we’ll be getting back to be challenged again over the next couple of weeks.

“As I said, whatever edge you can, you will use, but both teams know each other fairly well and it’s going to come down to this game and whoever wants it most.

“So that’s the way it’s going to be.”

That it absolutely is.

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