Having attended every Donegal Senior Club Championship County final since 1940, Johnny Murphy is one of Donegal’s oldest and most ardent supporters and was honoured at the 2021 final last Sunday. Below is an article based on a 2017 interview with Gerry McLaughlin that appeared in this year’s programme.
“Wait till I tell ya”!
It is a strangely mild December morn and the great John “Spud” Murphy is in full flow in Donegal Town.
Donegal Bay is as flat as a silver coin below John’s well appointed home on the Old Golf Course Road as this seanchai, storyteller and general seer talks about his great passion for all things Donegal GAA.
For John has been faithfully following Donegal for 85 years since back in 1936!
His home is a museum of memorabilia to the past that this very alert ninety-year-old has faithfully preserved in homage to his beloved Tir Chonaill.
His living room is strewn with photographs and memories of times past, of sepia tinted heroes who wore cloth caps and often cycled to play matches all over Donegal.
It is all here, Donegal in all its triumphs and tragedies in the home of probably the county’s greatest GAA fan.
The stats don’t lie as he has been at every Donegal county final since 1940 and every All-Ireland final from 1953 to 2014.
“I got into a car with Sean Slevin, Robbie McShea and Hugh Daly, who was county secretary in 1953 and the first thing Hugh did was to hand me my first ever All-Ireland ticket.
“I was high up in the crow’s nest in the Cusack Stand and you were nearer Heaven than you were Croke Park.”
He hasn’t missed an Ulster final since 1946 and had 62 All-Ireland’s in a row.
And even though his eyesight is not quite as good as it was, John’s forensic memory, ability to simplify the complex, and dole out a telling line remain undimmed.
He does not just give you the year of a particular event, but the actual date as well.
Also, there is no need to ask too many questions for listening to John is like walking down a winding pleasant country road of golden memories, as he segues from one major event to another, from one major team to another and all capped with pithy observations.
His great memory stretches back to his early childhood days where he was born in Ballyhaunis in County Mayo in August 1931 and seeing the first ever Mayo team coming home with the Sam Maguire in 1936.
“I was only five, but when I saw so many grown men crying in delight, I was a GAA man.”
Thereafter his life is a tale of two south Donegal towns.
John and his family came to live in Chapel Street in Ballyshannon in October 1936, and he later moved to Donegal Town to live in and around 1960 where he rose to the rank of Post Master.
“I have never left this county since, except to go on holidays”.
In between, he was a dedicated and hardy corner back for his truly beloved Aodh Ruadh, served as secretary in the 1950s, and was also a county board delegate in the 1940s and 1950s.
When he moved to Donegal Town to live in 1959, after coming to work there in 1950, he was a very active treasurer, county board delegate and once went for the post of county treasurer in 1966.
John also ran a very successful bingo and was heavily involved until 1973.
But his early youth in the 1940s was filled with Aodh Ruadh giants like John “Dodger” McDermott Mick Melly, Bob Gallagher, Red Jack Gallagher, Mick Slevin, P J Goan, Jim “The Natch” and Dan “Gulliver” Doherty, to name but a few.
“In every decade Ballyshannon had at least one footballer that played Railway Cup football going back to the 1920s” he said.
They also took county titles as regularly as tea and John has kindly given the “Post” a lend of a photograph of the 1945 team that won the Democrat Cup.
Ten years later John was a very proud member of another Aodh Ruadh team that won a Democrat Cup in 1955.
He played until 1960 when he moved to Donegal Town.
In a parallel but very important universe John followed the great Donegal teams of those cloth- capped years.
Apart from his Aodh Ruadh heroes he saw the legendary Hiudai Beag Gallagher, Peadar McGeehin, Cookie Boyle, the O’Donnell’s from Dungloe, and Big Frank O’Donnell, the ex principal of Rockfield NS who used to play with Aodh Ruadh in the winter time and then head back down to Towney to play with his native Kilcar in the summer months.
John has been there on all the big occasions, at the NFL semi-final in 1952 when Donegal made their first ever appearance in Croke Park against a star-studded Cork team that included three Kerry men, who went on to play for their own county the following year and win an All-Ireland title.
He was there in 1954 when Kerry beat Donegal in the All-Ireland Junior final and his neighbours Jackie McDermott played a blinder for Donegal when he was moved to midfield from goals for the second half.
John saw the first ever Donegal team to reach an Ulster Final in 1963 when they were demolished by Down before a huge crowd in Breffni Park.
Three years later he saw Aodh Ruadh’s Mickey McLoone captain a much better Donegal team to another Ulster final appearance against Down.
Donegal could have won this one and to say that John was not happy with the way Joe Lennon marked Mickey McLoone that day is putting it very mildly indeed.
For John, Frankie McFeely from Ballybofey is a true Donegal great and certainly the county and country’s greatest ever midfielder and it was a very emotional day for John when the elegant McFeely collected the county’s first ever Anglo Celt trophy.
John was there in 1974 when Pauric McShea was captain, in 1983 with Mickey Lafferty and in 1990 when Anthony Molloy raised the Anglo Celt high.
And the decision to play Manus Boyle at left corner forward was key to the county winning its first ever All-Ireland title in 1992, is John’s firm belief.
That was a great team as was a different type of team that took the title under Jim McGuinness in 2012.
But for John, the Donegal team of the mid 1960s that contained Railway Cup stars like Seamus Hoare, Bernard Brady, Frankie McFeely, Paul Kelly, Sean O’Donnell, P J Flood, Brian McEniff, Mickey McLoone, Seamie Granaghan and Pauric McShea was definitely the county’s most gifted side.
John was asked to pick his best ever Donegal team. That is a thankless task, but John not only picks his A team, he breaks new ground and even more bravely picks his B team as well.
A Team; Paul Durcan (Four Masters), Donal Monaghan (Four Masters), Mick Melly (Aodh Ruadh), Damian Diver (Ardara), Sean O’Donnell (Dungloe), Karl Lacey (Four Masters), Anthony Gallagher (St Eunan’s), Frankie McFeely (Sean MacCumhaill’s), Sean Ferriter (St Eunan’s), Mickey McLoone (Aodh Ruadh), Michael Murphy (Glenswilly), “Red Jack” Gallagher (Aodh Ruadh), Hudie Beag Gallagher (Gaoth Dobhair), Tony Boyle (Dungloe), Manus Boyle (Killybegs)
Charlie Campbell (Dungloe), John Joe Doherty (Naomh Columba) Pauric McShea (Aodh Ruadh), Barry McGowan (Killybegs), Jim “Natch” Gallagher (Aodh Ruadh), Bernard Brady (Bundoran), Frank McGlynn (Glenfin), Jim McFadden (Gaoth Dobhair), Neil Gallagher (Glenswilly), Martin Carney (Aodh Ruadh), Seamus Bonner (Four Masters), P J Goan (Aodh Ruadh), Colm McFadden (St Michael’s), Adrian Sweeney (Dungloe), Patrick McBrearty (Kilcar)