Murphy hung up his inter-county boots last night after 16 seasons –and the Glenswilly powerhouse has been rightly lauded as one of the best footballers of his generation.
McEniff paid tribute to a “special talent” who carried Donegal on his shoulders with the 1992 All-Ireland-winning manager admitting that he was “devastated” and “broken-hearted” to see Murphy calling time on his county career.
“He was just a natural-born leader. I doubt there’s ever been a better captain. There were captains that had short-term reigns that were good, but Michael was there for 12 seasons,” McEniff said.
“Everyone looked up to Murphy and as a player, he was something very special. Of his own generation, he was like a man among boys. He was the captain, the leader, the score-getter, especially when you needed a score.
“In terms of great players, we had great players like Martin McHugh and Anthony Molloy. For a man to deliver what he did for as long as Michael did, you’d go a long way to find someone who could match his 15-year career with Donegal.”
Murphy has been an ever-present since making his county debut as a 17-year-old in 2007, and the three-time All-Star will go down in folklore having led Donegal to Sam Maguire success under Jim McGuinness.
The 33-year-old, who also captained Donegal to five Ulster SFC titles, has been hampered by injury in recent seasons, but it had been expected that he would soldier on in 2023 under new boss Paddy Carr.
However, Murphy admitted that he doesn’t feel his body can stand up to the rigours of inter-county activity any longer.
“To compete at the level which Donegal deserves requires the best I can give every day. I no longer feel I have the energy and capacity to reach the performance levels to give my best to Donegal,” Murphy said in a statement.
Murphy’s mind seemed to be made up in June following Donegal’s loss to Armagh in the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers with the team’s spiritual leader telling his colleagues that “whatever happens in the future, Donegal will always go on.”
McEniff believes his absence is an “incalculable loss” in 2023 and beyond.
“He’s irreplaceable, there’s no point in saying otherwise. You’d like to have held onto him for another year but the body is saying he’s tired and time catches up on us all,” McEniff said.
“He has set such a high standard for himself that he wouldn’t like to drop the standard, you can understand that too. He’s put in 15 years, but they were an intense 15 years and he did so much for his club as well.
“No matter when we (Bundoran) played Glenswilly, Michael Murphy was there. He was impossible to play. We would have played a very good footballer in on him and put a man in front of him, and he could kick a goal and 12 points in a club match.
“There was nothing you could do. Big Neil Gallagher would catch the ball from the throw-in and kick it in, and it was in the back of the net before you knew it.”