Ciaráin Murtagh is 24 years of age, but going on 30 in terms of his outlook and maturity.
He wasn’t an underage captain. But he was made senior captain at 23. It wasn’t difficult for the management to pick out his notable characteristics. He’s grounded. He’s direct. He’s sincere. On the field, he has an admirable honesty of effort, and a high level of football intelligence.
He’s surrounded by different groups of journalists at the recent press night in Ballyleague. He handles every question brilliantly. As he answers every journalist, he looks them directly in the eye.
Murtagh’s development as a player has been constant. He’s part of a group of players that has got better with every season. But he doesn’t believe that the opportunities will keep presenting themselves for Roscommon if they don’t take one of them.
“You’re not going to keep getting to Connacht finals every year. Sligo, Mayo, Galway — they’ll be fighting for it every year. You won’t always get to two finals in succession, so when you leave the last one behind you you’re trying to win the next one and build from that,” he remarked.
The games came thick and fast last year. Almost too fast. The league ended. Then it was off to New York. The players hardly had time to reflect on the league before the championship arrived.
Entering the championship late in 2017 has been a great help, and the captain feels the better for it.
“I can only speak for myself but I definitely feel fresher this year. But we put a lot of work into the league last year. We needed to do that to stay in Division One. There was no point in going up and getting relegated straight away. So we had to put in a lot of work and that really paid off as we got another year under our belt playing against the top teams.
“When you’re training you want to be playing matches. But we went back to the club for a few rounds (after the league ended), so that was a bit of a break from the county scene. We got a lot of work done in the lead-up to the Leitrim game and we’re all feeling fresh now.
“We had that last win in the league against Cavan and then against Leitrim. It’s nice to have those two wins going into the Connacht final. Last year, we shipped a heavy defeat against Kerry and it was hard bringing that into the championship.”
explained the St. Faithleach’s player.
Winning at underage level is great. But that’s forgotten in the long-term if it’s not backed up at senior level, something Murtagh subscribes to.
“A lot of the lads are used to winning at minor and U-21 but, ultimately, you have to be winning your provincial championship at senior level. That’s what everyone remembers you for. You’re not going to be remembered for your minor or U-21 victories.
“It would be nice to win it now, with the younger lads that are there for a few years and for the older lads. It would be nice to win it as a tightly-knit group,” he continued.
The build-up to Sunday’s final is that bit calmer. Reaching a final for a second year running brings pressure in terms of needing to win, but there isn’t the same intensive hype among supporters.
“There was definitely hype last year. It was coming from a massive league campaign. We put a lot of work into that and we picked up some massive wins in it. This year, I suppose, when we started losing games, people don’t tend to talk about the teams that are losing games.
“I think we came from Division Four to Three to Two to One, and then to stay in the top division for a second year was great. You’re playing against the teams that are winning All-Ireland titles. That’s where you want to be. You’re learning from every game. Even this year, when we were losing games, we were still learning. And that’s going to be massive now coming into the summer.
“But Galway are a Division One team. They were basically a Division One team last year too. They’ve definitely improved. They’ve beaten Mayo two years running,” he conceded.
Ciaráin Murtagh is as impressive individual. He is an impressive footballer too. It’s no surprise that he’s already in his second year of captaincy at such a relatively young age.
Receiving the Nestor Cup from Mick Rock on Sunday next would be the icing on the cake.
“You won’t always get to two finals in succession, so when you leave the last one behind you you’re trying to win the next one and build from that” – Ciaráin Murtagh