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Down All-Ireland winner Leo Murphy remembered as 'finest full back of the era'

Leo Murphy pictured in 1961 when Down retained the All-Ireland senior football championship

A KEY figure in Down's emergence as a major force in Gaelic football more than half a century ago, Leo Murphy was last night remembered as "the finest full back of the era".

Down GAA led tributes to "one of our great stalwarts" following Mr Murphy's death aged 78 at home in Rostrevor yesterday.

As part of the historic team that brought the Sam Maguire Cup across the border for the first time in 1960 and again a year later, he was known for his "youthful enthusiasm and intelligent defending".

A native of Kilkeel, Mr Murphy attended St Colman's College in Newry, where he played on school teams and won a MacRory Cup medal in 1957.

He began his club football career with Lisnacree before playing with Kilkeel and winning a Down Junior Championship medal with the club.

The first team to bring the Sam Maguire across the border was captained by Clonduff man, Kevin Mussen. Front, left to right: Eamon McKay, Patsy O'Hagan, Paddy Doherty, Kevin Mussen (Captain), George Lavery, Tony Hadden, Brian Morgan. Back, left to right: James McCartan, Joe Lennon, Jarlath Carey, Leo Murphy, Dan McCartan, Sean O'Neill, Kevin O'Neill, Pat Rice

Mr Murphy made his county senior debut the same year aged 18 as Down were defeated by Tyrone in the Dr Lagan Cup final.

In 1958 he won his first county honours as a member of the Ulster Junior Championship winning team, followed by his first senior championship medal the following year.

Now firmly established at full back, he was part of the Down team to win the Sam Maguire for the first time in 1960 with a memorable eight-point win over Kerry.

A year later more than 90,000 people watched the county retain the trophy with victory over Offaly.

Leo Murphy, pictured front row second from left, passed away yesterday

Mr Murphy also won several Ulster Championship medals during the 1960s. He played for Rostrevor up to 1975 when he retired from club football and later managed St Colman's Lisnacree and Kilkeel, winning Division 4 in 1978.

In the early 1980s, he managed Rostrevor and in 1983/84 was All-Ireland fresher manager with Ulster Polytechnic and was at the helm in 1985 as Jordanstown entered the Sigerson Cup for the first time.

Away from sport, Mr Murphy was principal of Killowen Primary School, Rostrevor where he lived with his wife Sodilva and their family.

He was also a local historian and founding member of Rostrevor Swimming Club and the inspiration behind its Christmas charity swim.

Down GAA said he was "loved and revered" by the GAA community in Rostrevor, Down and throughout Ireland.

Leo Murphy passed away yesterday

"Leo Murphy was without doubt the finest full back of the era, his youthful enthusiasm and intelligent defending was a key component in Down's emergence as a major force," it said.

"He had some memorable tussles with Kerry's John Dowling, Offaly's Donie O'Hanlon, Cavan's Charlie Gallagher, Donegal's John Campbell and Dublin's Lar Foley, but he acquitted himself superbly in the very best of company."

Down county chairman Sean Rooney said he was a "giant of a man in every way, he commanded the square as a full back and was a man who gave great service to the county for over a decade".

Ulster University GAA also described Mr Murphy as a "Down and Jordanstown legend".

Requiem Mass will be celebrated at St Mary's Star of the Sea Church at 11am tomorrow followed by burial in Kilbroney Cemetery.

Mr Murphy is survived by his wife Sodilva and children Ciara, Tara and Leon.

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