Kenny Archer: Danny Murphy was champion for all that's good in Ulster GAA
NORMALLY, it’s pop or rock stars who are known by only one name.
Danny Murphy might not be expected to be bracketed in the company of Elvis, Madonna, et al, but many within Ulster GAA, and the GAA in general, simply knew him as ‘Danny’.
Besides, as GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail revealed in his brilliant tribute at Danny’s funeral service, the long-serving Ulster GAA secretary was well tuned into popular culture.
Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark provided his ringtone. Danny quoted Bob Dylan at high level GAA meetings when others were reluctant to alter traditions, reminding them that ‘the times they are a-changing’.
Apparently, he also turned to Kenny Rogers in his approach to negotiations, accepting that ‘you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em’.
In any case, Danny was a rock and a star in GAA terms. Aogán noted that Danny was made of Mourne granite and he certainly was a rock of a different sort for Ulster gaels, a steady, solid reassuring presence.
Yet, he wasn’t just fixed in one place - as evidenced by that Dylan reference - despite his love for his native Burren. He was also a star, a guiding star. As many stated in their tributes to Danny, he was a visionary, someone who led the association in the north through a period of significant change.
It was fitting that the old Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision was played as his coffin was carried out of St Mary’s church last Saturday. Hearing that wonderful tune, my personal favourite hymn, and the mentions of Dylan and the Gambler, plus Danny’s love of history, made me realise I might have had much more in common with him than I’d thought.
Yet, in more than 18 years at The Irish News I’d never got to know Danny, never really scratched the surface of the man. I had his mobile number, but probably never rang it more than two or three times; I wouldn’t have called him at the Ulster Council offices too often either.
Danny didn’t quite have the traditional ‘tell them nothing’ GAA approach to the media, but he disseminated information very much on a ‘need to know’ basis.
I formed an impression of him, but it’s obvious the stern face he usually presented to the media wasn’t the real Danny or, at least, was only a small part of the man.
That image I had was of an intimidating figure, not least because Danny happened to be Ulster GAA president and secretary and CEO when I first came to this newspaper, the only man ever to combine all those roles. Truly, Danny seemed to be the Ulster Council.
Let me be clear that Danny was never anything other than polite to me. Yet, it’ll come as no surprise to anyone when I state that relations between the Ulster Council - i.e. Danny - and this newspaper were, at times, somewhat strained.
That’s just one of the many reasons why so many Ulster Gaels loved and admired him. Danny was fiercely - fiercely - protective of Ulster GAA and fought its corner like a she-bear looking out for her cubs.
He never hesitated to take up the metaphorical cudgels if he felt any criticism or comment was unwarranted or over-the-top. However, as indicated above, he didn’t believe the GAA, in Ulster and further afield, was perfect either. What mattered to him was that the changes were what the membership wanted, not what the media said should be done.
Despite the austere persona he presented on camera or on the airwaves, Danny was no stick-in-the-mud - he made the Ulster Council by the far the most innovative and forward-thinking of the four provincial councils.
Accordingly, he oversaw the massive modernisation and improvement of GAA grounds - including bringing floodlighting to all nine county grounds - and the way clubs are run throughout Ulster.
Securing the funding to help effect such changes required reaching out and working with politicians from all parties and Danny was happy to do that. As we learned from the GAA president’s funeral oration, Martin Luther King was a particular inspiration to Danny.
He also kept Ulster Gaeldom together and within the GAA fold, despite strong differences of opinion among the membership over changes to Rules 21 and 42.
Danny guided Ulster GAA in working on projects with the Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby. He was much more than an administrator though - Danny, in his time, was a footballer, hurler, manager, selector and even a stretcher-bearer, going onto the Croke Park pitch to help carry off the injured Peter Withnell during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Kerry.
Danny happened to be Down county chairman at the time, but he was still prepared to turn his hands to any task, to literally carry a load. Certain county chairmen seek out the limelight, but Danny did that simply because it was a job that had to be done.
Danny was the public face of Ulster GAA, but was never attention-seeking, always calm, decent and dignified. Such was his dedication to his role, he continued to work almost right up until his death.
On a few occasions going to a funeral, one has that strange sense of expecting to see the person who has actually passed away. That was especially the case last Saturday. Danny was such a dominant presence that whenever, wherever there was a function at which Ulster GAA was involved or represented, then you expected to see Danny. It will be particularly strange for Ulster GAA to be without Danny. He will be greatly missed.
One consolation is Danny Murphy will be followed in his role by a very good man in Brian McAvoy. In most circumstances, you might wonder about Danny’s replacement being not only another Down man but another Burren clubman, but Brian is absolutely the best person for the job.
Still, he needs to be - he has a huge act to follow. My deepest sympathy to Danny’s family and friends.