O'Donovan Rossa - through the eyes of the Murphy clan
‘Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh sí - ‘Praise the youth and they will flourish’
DÉAGLAN Murphy remembers being on his knees with a hurl in his hand in the front garden of the family home.
Finally, it clicked. His first successful roll lift. It was a long time coming for a four-year-old.
Colly Murphy, Déaglan’s father, was ecstatic. Always the hard task master. Still is.
'Joanne, Joanne,' roared Colly up at the bedroom window at the front of the house. 'Déaglan has just done a roll lift.'
He threw stones at the window until she stirred.
“It was a Saturday afternoon and my daddy had me out in the front garden,” Déaglan recalls.
“My mummy was looking down from her window watching me roll-lifting the ball. I must have been about four. That’s probably my earliest memory of hurling.”
It was the exactly same drill for siblings Tiarnán and Dáire.
“Colly used to get our three kids to do 10 roll lifts,” Joanne says. “And if they missed one they had to start again until they got 10 in a row.”
Déaglan and Tiarnán always had their hearts set on wearing the blue and yellow jersey of O’Donovan Rossa.
For Dáire, hurling was more of a slow burner. He just didn’t share the same instinctive enthusiasm for stitched leather and ash.
Typical Dáire. Thoughtful and measured, he just needed a little more thinking time before falling in love with the greatest game on God’s earth.
When Déaglan headed off to America to study a few years back and Tiarnán to Liverpool, their sole concern was: What about Rossa?
Dáire toyed with the idea of a year’s study in Dublin – but opted for Queen’s University instead. The pull of his club proved too great for the 19-year-old. He couldn’t leave.
This is the story of O’Donovan Rossa GAC – a utopian pocket of Gaelic life in the heart of west Belfast - told through the eyes of the Murphy clan.
It could easily be told through the eyes of others: the Armstrongs, the Orchins, the Shannons, the McManus’.
Tomorrow afternoon, all the clans of O’Donovan Rossa will make the short journey to Corrigan Park, hoping - praying - that Colly Murphy’s team can wrestle the Volunteer Cup from the stubborn grasp of back-to-back county champions Dunloy.
Helmets on. Hurls gripped. Chests out. Staring down the field at great champions. Ready for whatever the day throws at them. You will hear their beating hearts all around Corrigan.
EVERY kid should experience Féile – the gospel according to Colly Murphy. It’s where the love of the game is distilled. The world starts and ends on these innocent fields.
As a boy he remembers playing in the Jack Lynch tournament with Rossa in the late 70s and winning it in 1980 before going on to play in Galway at Féile.
“Those experiences left a lasting impression on me and I wanted my kids to experience this,” Colly says.
A hugely talented sportsman in his own right, Colly was part of the Antrim senior hurling squad that reached the All-Ireland final in 1989.
Back then, Jim Nelson’s team virtually picked itself.
“It was a hard team to break into, a really good side that had some great characters,” Colly remembers. “Oclan McFettridge, Brian Donnelly, big Neilly Patterson – all boys I’d be very fond of.”
He featured in five county finals and won one – in 1988. He dabbled in soccer for Cromac Albion Youth alongside Rossa team-mates Jimmy Close, Mickey Brady, Noel Murray and Dominic McEnhill before being picked up by Irish League club Newry Town where he won a Co Antrim Shield in the 1987/88 season and finished a Gold Cup runner-up to Linfield.
But hurling was always his first love.
Coaching was in the blood too and he found himself taking Rossa teams at just 24 years of age.
After a successful period with the club’s minor teams and working alongside Paddy Kelly, he stepped away for a couple of years.
“Once Déaglan started going to the pitch, I went round and met up with Seany [Shannon] and started doing a wee bit. It started off with 10 minutes, next thing it was 10 weeks and then it was 10 years! I was taking football teams as well which was tough going at times.”
The Murphys had a caravan in Waterfoot. Déaglan remembers walking along the beach up to a small five-a-side court and playing net to net with his father.
“I remember thinking would I ever be able to hit the ball as hard as my daddy could,” Déaglan says.
Colly Murphy and Seany Shannon were never done heading down south with the Rossa U8s playing hurling games where they could get them.
“My daddy and Seany had us playing in the big tournaments - the Pat Kelleher tournament in Na Piarsaigh in Cork [formerly the Jack Lynch tournament]. We won it in 2008 [U13] when we beat Kilmacud Crokes with the last puck of the game.
“That really upset the applecart – a team from the north going down and winning a Cork tournament.
“I remember my daddy ringing Cuala for a game one time and the guy said: ‘Now, you know we’re very good.’ And my daddy said: ‘We’re good too. That’s why I’m ringing you.’ We went down and beat them.
“We played all the big guns because there was only one way you were ever going to get to the standard of the southern teams and that was to play them week in, week out.
“It’s that half-second. You mightn’t have got that in Antrim or the counties around us...”
Current senior panelists Déaglan, Gerard Walsh, Seaghan Emmett Shannon, Aidan Orchin, Dara Rocks, Callum McVeigh, Aidan Murphy and Dara Murphy have been together since their U8 days and they'll all be in Corrigan Park on Sunday.
“We had an absolutely fantastic childhood,” Déaglan says. “Full of love, care and sport – and I think that’s all children really need. We were away 90 per cent of the weekend every single year.
“You wouldn’t have changed it, laughing and playing. I remember staying in wee cottages with five or six other lads in the one room and the craic you would have had, getting up at half-two in the morning and running about the place and the managers cracking up because we were going out to play a game the next day. You think now how privileged we were.
“Mummy and daddy worked hard at their jobs and they would have taken us away to Spain three weeks of the summer to a place called Cypsela in Costa Brava, and the hurls were taken with us. So many other Rossa families went there too, it became a bit of a hurling hub.”
BY the time Colly and Seany’s young crew reached the senior ranks, the club championship was virtually the preserve of north Antrim. Loughgiel Shamrocks, Cushendall and Dunloy shared it among themselves.
Rossa, in all honesty, were no-where near it.
“I remember the committee meeting where we realised we were way off senior level,” says Colly.
“We thought there wasn’t much point going into senior to take another tanking.
“If we were to win Antrim Intermediate we might have the opportunity to hurl throughout the winter and bring these boys on. The committee then decided to do that.”
Déaglan adds: “I was playing midfield and I was still at school. Gerard Walsh was our wing half-back, 17-years-of-age. Aidan Orchin, 18-years-of-age, corner-back… Seaghan Emmett was young too…Whenever you look back, you realised that maybe Rossa needed to step back into intermediate because it instilled a winning mentality.”
In the 2014/15 season, the west Belfast men swept the boards at intermediate level, beating Kilburn Gaels in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
It was time to grasp the nettle at senior level again where a few more hammerings inevitably awaited them.
But they wouldn’t buckle like before. They began to turn the corner once Colly Murphy and Seany Shannon took the senior reins three seasons ago.
“At the time, you thought the Nipper Quinn U12 tournament was the best thing since sliced bread,” Colly says, “and then you get to U14 and you think Féile is and then it’s U16 and so on.
“All those experiences were only getting them ready for the senior championship, they’ve trained all those years to get here.”
FROM the first puck out of this year’s championship, Rossa were bouncing fit. A nod to the players themselves, S&C coach Niall McHugh and backroom team.
They breezed through the group stages with three straight wins over Ballycastle, St Enda’s and Loughgiel. But could they record back-to-back championship wins over a rejuvenated Ruairi Og, Cushendall?
For long periods of their semi-final, they had the game in the palm of their hand. Two goals from Michael Armstrong, another major from the swashbuckling Stephen Beatty – all coming in the second half.
Surely, this was Rossa’s day.
Leading by five points in the 43rd minute and re-establishing that commanding lead in the 53rd minute when Beatty booted the sloithar to the net, Cushendall kept coming at them.
That 17-year wait to reach a senior county final looked like tumbling into 18 years for the Shaw’s Road men when Fred McCurry and Paddy Magill netted in stoppage-time for Cushendall – two ruthless stabs to the heart of Rossa’s dream.
With just enough time for one more play on referee Colum Cunning’s watch, Michael Armstrong plucked Gerard Walsh’s ‘Hail Mary’ out of the skies, off-loaded to substitute Dara Rocks who buried the ball low and hard and with as much spite as he could muster beneath Eoin Gillan’s despairing dive.
From the jaws of defeat Rossa had rescued this incredible semi-final.
Whenever or wherever her sons are playing, you’ll find Joanne Murphy. She’ll usually be with her friends Deirdre Shannon, wife of assistant manager Seany, and Marion McManus, wife of selector Seán McManus.
“I don’t like standing with anybody that’s going to talk during the game,” Joanne says.
“Once Cushendall got their goal to put them three points up I just turned on my heels and walked away and I thought: ‘That’s it, it’s over.’
“And Colly’s daddy [Tommy] was there, he was shaking, he couldn’t watch and I just walked up and down. I was looking through the crowds to see what was going on. I’d no idea of time or what was going on. I felt physically sick.
“I saw the ball going in, I couldn’t have told you who scored the goal. It was a case of listening to the crowd, and the voices got louder and louder...
“Once the final whistle went, Tiarnán came running up the line and he just hugged and hugged and hugged and we all got a bit emotional. And Colly’s daddy hugged Tiarnán, he couldn’t talk. In the centre of the pitch Déaglan and Dáire were on their knees hugging each other…”
If Déaglan Murphy is O’Donovan Rossa’s trusted metronome on the field, their mother is the one that keeps everything even off it.
It’s not easy being a father and senior coach to your three sons, especially when the stakes are so high.
Since trying to do 10 consecutive roll lifts in the front garden, Colly has always railed against the notion of favouritism.
Déaglan, Tiarnán and Dáire are in the team on merit.
At Corrigan tomorrow, the eldest Murphy could pop up in any number of positions. Midfield, sweeper, centre-forward, corner-forward. There are men who would kill for Tiarnán’s first touch. And you'd need to travel a long way to find a harder working wing-forward than Dáire.
“Colly is hardest on our three,” insists Joanne. “They used to be the first to come off in a game.”
“As anyone can see both my daddy and me wear our hearts on our sleeve. Rossa means so much to us, always has,” Déaglan says.
“We both want to succeed in the blue and yellow. It was tough at times to separate things and leave the hurling at the door.
“But you could see with the embrace at the final whistle against Cushendall when we met up in the middle of the pitch…we worked so hard for that victory because he could see the time and effort that the players put in and I could see the hours that he put in.
“People don’t know what goes on in the house of a senior hurling manager who has three children on the team. His phone doesn’t stop.
“It’s just his raw passion that could lead any team to success. No stone is left unturned. Black is black and white is white with him. To steer 35 or 40 men all in one direction with one goal is the way you have to be.”
SUNDAY September 26 felt like O’Donovan Rossa’s day of emancipation, their breakthrough win, even though there was no silverware or victory speeches in Dunsilly.
Although they face another mountain tomorrow afternoon in the form of Dunloy, there is a palpable sense of freedom about the Rossa hurlers ahead of this final.
Déaglan Murphy, for one, is embracing everything about the build-up.
Currently teaching in St Ronan’s College, Lurgan, the 25-year-old is grateful for everything that his parents have given him and the opportunities Rossa have offered since he was knee-high.
Always striving to be the best version of himself on and off the field.
On the doorstep of his first senior final, he’s able to reflect on his own journey.
Doing 10 roll lifts in a row in the front garden and Colly throwing stones up at Joanne’s window.
‘He did it, Joanne. Déaglan did it.’
Trying to hit the ball as hard as his father. The bus trips down south to learn about doing things a half-second quicker, winning the Pat Kelleher, messing about in the cottages with his mates before a big game, all the while Colly and Seanie cajoling and moulding and getting a great kick out these U8s.
Hurling in sunny Cypsela. Studying in the States and understanding the importance of Rossa during that year, returning home a better young man for the experience.
Playing with Tiarnán and Dáire. The freedom.
Investing in the youth: that’s what all good GAA clubs do.
Déaglan says: “It’s like the Irish proverb: ‘Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh sí - ‘Praise the youth and they will flourish’. It’s the best way to describe the Rossa philosophy over the last 20 years.
“We’re in the final on Sunday and that’s down to their hard work. Especially me being a teacher now, I see it in an awful lot of kids.
“It’s about nurturing their talents; it’s not just about their ability, it’s about them as a person and instilling gratitude, instilling resilience, instilling commitment to a cause, to something.
“To pick up a task and not just drop it at the first sign of failure because, throughout my 20-odd years of playing, there have been plenty of failures, none more so than last year in the semi-final.
"But that just makes you more determined every single time you go out on that pitch, every time you walk into the gym or every time you lift up a hurl.
"There needs to be a purpose and my daddy and Seany had a purpose, they had a philosophy and they wanted Rossa to be back at the pinnacle of Antrim senior hurling and hopefully bigger stages. We are where we are today because of Colly Murphy and Seany Shannon."
A couple of days after their semi-final win over Cushendall, the Murphys landed at The Dub for a training session.
“Before we got out of the car, my daddy turned the radio down and just said: ‘Before we start training, I just want to say how proud I am of the three of you and how you all played in the semi-final.’”
Mol an Óige agus tiocfaidh sí - Praise the youth and they will flourish.
This is just a small stretch of road O'Donovan Rossa has travelled. Through the eyes of the Murphy clan. Living their best lives…