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The Big Interview

Murphy Calls time on great Career

Evening Echo 15th June 2013

 

Six-time All-Ireland winner Juliet Murphy reveals to Mary White her reasons for retiring from club and county football

 

THERE’S just one All-Ireland medal visible in Juliet Murphy’s room; she’s not really sure where the other six are. It hangs solo on a corkboard alongside snapshots of her last time winning the Brendan Martin Cup in Croke Park.

Her mother knows where the other medals are, perhaps in a box at home in Donoughmore, but what Juliet does know is that when she hung it last December, it was the beginning of the end.

It wasn’t a solitary moment that enticed her to retire from both club and county football, rather a series of events that triggered the decision. Lacking in motivation over the winter months was perhaps the biggest underlining factor in what was a mammoth decision for the three-time All-Ireland-winning captain.

Sitting in a quiet corner of The Bodega, impeccably dressed in peach and grey, Murphy speaks in that unassuming, matter-of-fact tone of hers. But momentarily, you can tell, this isn’t like any interview she’s done before.

“I’m finding this hard,” she confides.

“I knew it would be difficult. I knew once I said it and the words went out, there would be no turning back. I feel a bit emotional about it now.

“I’d hate to go back and struggle with motivation, I was never lacking in that, but I know that’s not in me anymore,” she says, ending months of speculation as to whether she’d return to Eamonn Ryan’s ranks, just as Angela Walsh, Deirdre O’Reilly and Nollaig Cleary did towards the latter stages of the league.

Ryan had subtly left the door open, Angela text, Briege (Corkery) rang, and Nollaig met with her, all trying to get the five-time All-Star to return. But, her decision’s made; and she’s at peace with it.

“The girls’ return probably made me consolidate in my own decision, and then I felt with them back, the team was solid. I wanted to finish knowing that the team was strong.”

She didn’t necessarily know last October when Cork won their seventh All-Ireland title that it would be her last time playing in Croker. The county final against Inch Rovers however was a different story.

“When we lost, coming off the field, I certainly felt it might have been my last game with the club. In the dressing room after people were quite upset, but probably more so because we knew the team was going to break up. Regina (Curtin) and Linda (Barrett) were going to Australia, and Mossie (Barrett) was leaving after 16 years, and the words he spoke that night, I just knew it would be my last time.”

A former international basketballer and All-Ireland-winning roadbowler, Murphy was 13 when she first wore the black and ivory for the mid-Cork parish, with whom she’s won two senior All-Ireland club medals, 11 Munster and 13 county championships.

She remembers phoning Síle Kiely from the her parents’ upstairs bedroom asking could she join, before cycling her way to Stuake to train with the likes of Kiely and Hanora Kelleher; her role models.

Like many of the players she’s had the honour of playing with, she remembers too togging out with the boys in primary school. It was a final against Ovens NS and a certain “blondie fella” on the opposing team laughed at the sight of the footballer with the ponytail. But two teammates, Daniel Harrington and Patrick Sullivan, got the better of him with a shoulder, knowing it would be Murphy that would break him in two, and not the other way around.

It was the start of an amazing career which yielded seven All-Irelands, six Division 1 league titles, one Division 2 title and nine successive Munster titles, not to mention the LGFA’s inaugural Players’ Player of the Year award, five All-Stars, a club All-Ireland MVP and numerous other accolades.

But awards were never her thing, admitting she’s probably “overly blazay” about them. She was always more comfortable out of the spotlight despite being the most eloquent ambassador for the sport, perhaps ever.

For the majority of her club career Donoughmore were the Kingpins and the envy of the county, but the 33-year-old recalls how hard it took to get to the top — first winning the junior and intermediate county titles, before making it onto the domestic senior stage.

You’d forget all that went before their 11-year run of dominance (1996-2006), but they grafted to get there, and Murphy in midfield at the crux of every game.

Getting over the hump that was Ballymacarbery in the Munster Senior Championship was a major personal coup. The year before they ended the Waterford girls’ 13-year reign in 2001, they came close, trailing by a point at half-time in Ballincollig. But they ended up losing by 17 points, with Áine Wall hitting 16 of Ballymac’s 31.

It was a learning curve, and Murphy’s had her share of hammerings with club, just as she did with Cork prior to Eamonn Ryan’s (below) takeover in 2004.

There’s a memory bank galore that would make for a great biography some day. A smile glides across her face as she sips her coffee and tells how Mossie Barrett broke his hand on a dressing room door prior to a county final.

Or with Cork it was the banter heading west to Castletownbere to celebrate their third All-Ireland win; a promise the team made to Beara’s Amanda Murphy many moons previous. From the bonfires that illuminated the entire road west, to Rockchapel’s Norma Kelly attired in a garda hat out the car window.

The craic she’ll miss, and the chemistry too.

“It’s always been about the buzz of playing, knowing where someone’s going to run, the chemistry. It’s always been about that and the craic; the bus journeys from Quinn’s to the hotel, or after winning an All-Ireland.

“I remember with Donoughmore we’d drive in convoy and it was always a thing where we’d stop and all drive into the field together and announce ‘we’ve arrived’. There’s loads of things like that and those memories far outweigh any award.”

Despite being the face of Cork ladies football for almost 15 years, Donoughmore was always close to her heart, and her gratitude to the likes of the club’s Mags O’Connor, the Barrett family, and the players who stood shoulder to shoulder with her in black is almost tangible as she reflects on it all.

There was a time when she wouldn’t have stood next too those who would wear a Cork jersey with her in the years to come, with club rivalries so high it was detrimental to the intercounty cause. But in came Ryan, breaking down barriers, and kickstarting her county career.

“I remember being in The Commons Bar when he met us first. I think he was brought in for a couple of weeks until we actually got someone full-time, and that was the deal, that’s how Mary Collins got him… and sure once we got him, we held onto him!

“I don’t remember specifically what he spoke about, but he did mention winning an All-Ireland. There was a sheet handed out, which I still have, with things like fruit and water and all these things that we were going to have, and I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is unreal’. It just seemed like there was such a professional element coming into it.

“He made us feel like we were worth something and we bought into that.

“There was massive friction between clubs and there was no unity there at all, at all, and it’s amazing how he actually broke down those barriers.”

She’s made friends for life since, but is all too aware that some connections will now likely fade with time.

“I’ll miss the girls, and it’s only natural that our connection is football, and when you take that away there is an inevitability that you’ll lose some contact. But I suppose as you get older you just realise that’s what happens, you’re more accepting of it,” said Murphy, who will now have more time to concentrate on her gym in Ballincollig, as well as her day job as a primary school teacher in Scoil Bhride in Crosshaven.

Her former comrades won their seventh National League title last month when they defeated Mayo, and had she been playing, Murphy would have missed her niece’s Holy Communion; it would have been just another sacrifice.

Instead, she watched in the conservatory at home with her family.

“I felt great once they won!” she laughs.

“I can honestly say I didn’t feel like ‘I want to be out there’. I didn’t feel resentment or frustration, I just wanted them to win.”

Having missed so many family milestones over the years, it was nice to share this one.

Her older brothers Patrick, Seán and Ollie, younger sister Maggie and her parents, Michael and Mary, she’s forever indebted to.

“They’ve been so understanding, I’ve probably let them down more times than anybody, but they’ve always understood.”

Her parents will perhaps feel Juliet’s retirement more so than her siblings, and she knows it too.

“It’s very easy to be egotistical about it and say ‘This is a big decision for me’, but it’s going to leave as much a void for my parents as it is for me because they’ve supported me all thethe whole way.

“Dad’s obsessed with sport and he began taking me to basketball when I was 14. Then there was Donoughmore for so long, then Cork, and they’ve had an amazing time, and I acknowledge that for any parent going through that journey with their children it’s special.

“They’ve been wonderful, and kept me completely grounded. I have them totally to be thankful for, and my brothers and my sister.

“When you’re successful it’s easy to make assumptions like ‘Sure you’re going to win anyway’, but they always kept me on my toes.”

There was a time though she was overly hard on herself, but the honesty that she speaks of at the heart of the Cork camp helped.

“That’s one of the unique things about the team, in that someone wouldn’t be afraid to say something regardless of the consequences; that honesty is so important.

“I remember very early on Valerie and myself would have had some very frank conversations because I would be very pessimistic coming into an All-Ireland final and Val was like, ‘This is what it’s all about, you don’t do all this training just to fret, this is where you get to perform’, and that was always her attitude.

“I definitely was overly sensitive; I just lacked confidence. I focused on the negative things I got wrong in a game, but then again maybe that’s what made me the player I was; it was part of my make-up.”

 Gradually, she learned to adapt.

“I suppose it came with getting older, getting less self-critical I guess, and more self-belief; if you don’t have that then it’s a constant battle.” 

Her relationship with Ryan is a special one — although she’ll tell you he has good relations with every player — but you can tell, there’s a bond there like no other. 

“The true leader is Eamonn. He was the one that would build your confidence and the very unique thing about him, is that no matter how long you’re playing for him, you always want to impress him. If it was just the most basic of things you still wanted to impress him, it never got old.

“He just has something. He’s very well read and knowledgeable about the game, but he’s also into the psychology of it. He lets on he’s a bog man but he’s so in touch with players and so clued in.”

to what’s going on.”

All that’s left then is to thank those who’ve played central roles in her career.

“Frankie (Honahan), even though he’s my uncle-in-law, I travelled to games with him and just the conversation, the chat, ill miss that, heFrankie was so good to me.

“All the Cork selectors, like James O’Callaghan, Justin McCarthy and Noel O’Connor, who do thankless work. Mary Collins deserves a really special mention because she stepped in right from the start, and Jim McEvoy who brought a professionalism from working with the Cork hurlers.

“Mags O’Connor of Donoughmore, has been a rock. The club itself, Mossie and Thomas, and the Barrett family, and all the girls I’ve played with, the likes of Síle (Kiely), Hanora (Kelleher) and the Emer Walshs and Aisling O’Connors of this world.

“And then there’s Eamonn. I can’t say enough about him. I don’t have words to articulate what he means to everyone. and what he’s done. And as much as he’d hate to be singled out, I think he needs to be.”

And with that, she bows her head and says “Sin é”.

 

You can follow Mary White on Twitter on @mary_white33

 

 


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