Saturday 23 September 2017

Keeping the faith through long hours on the road and early-morning training sessions

Aoife Murray: ‘I never once recall my parents saying that I couldn’t go training because the lads had to be brought. It was more a case of us all leaving a bit earlier so everyone could go.’ Photo: Steve Humphreyson
Aoife Murray: ‘I never once recall my parents saying that I couldn’t go training because the lads had to be brought. It was more a case of us all leaving a bit earlier so everyone could go.’ Photo: Steve Humphreyson
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Every Thursday morning, Aoife Murray heads to the Kilmacud Crokes club. She meets former Dublin hurler Niall Corcoran there at 7.0am and they get straight to work.

Murray lives in Dublin but plays camogie for Cork. She commutes home several times a week which is obviously a logistical nightmare, but over the years she has found ways to make it work - and doing individual sessions in the capital is one of those.

Cork goalkeeper Aoife Murray. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork goalkeeper Aoife Murray. Photo: Sportsfile

Corcoran is involved in the Galway camogie backroom team and although Cork defeated them in the semi-final when Murray scored a crucial penalty, there are no hard feelings.

In fact, what happens within their teams is one of their 'non-subjects' when they are training. They both respect that certain topics are off limits. They are professional enough to get on with the task in hand and that is to ensure that Murray is match-ready.

"We go to the wall first and we do a lot of skills," says Murray of the sessions with Corcoran. "He challenges the hell out of me for an hour and it's brilliant because there is no-one else there so there is no hiding place. He challenges me in ways that wouldn't be possible in a large group. Especially in goalkeeping, and because I'm playing so long, it's great to be tested in different ways.

"We go into the hall then and anything could come out of his gear bag, it could be a shuttle a squash ball or a plastic sliotar. It could involve me having eye patches on or goggles. I love the uniqueness of it. We go to the pitch then and do footwork and striking."

Corcoran provides a sounding board for Murray too. As does Declan Powell from the St Brigid's club in Dublin, who has been her go-to coach in the city for a decade.

By her own admission she definitely needs someone to talk things through with. She finds it difficult to let go of things. For example, if something goes wrong in a game there's no leaving it on the pitch. Murray agonises over it, replays it and analyses it again and again. Her form and mood is affected by performance in a big way.

"I wish I was the type of person who could just go to the club after it and forget about what happened in the match, but I can't. It's just not me. Sometimes I can sit in the car and drive all the way to Dublin and realise that I've had the radio off and that I was just thinking. Sometimes if I just can't get out of it I will write everything down, the pros and cons of the situation and that often helps."

Murray is the baby of 11 children - five boys and six girls - who grew up on a dairy farm in west Cork. From the outside looking in things probably seemed chaotic with so many children, but the Cork star knew no different. That was her norm. Sport was huge in the house and her parents encouraged their sons and daughters equally.

"There was no difference between me and the lads playing sport. I never once recall my parents saying that I couldn't go training because the lads had to be brought. It was more a case of us all leaving a bit earlier so everyone could go.

"It was great because you always had someone to play with. The lads take credit for me being a goalie because I was put in by them and used as target practice. I became quite competitive because of them too because there was always a winner and a loser. No matter what age you were."

Her first game as a goalkeeper was with her club Cloughduv. She went on to play underage with the boys and also made the county team.

She admits goalkeeper can be a frustrating place to play at times but she loves it, and all the responsibility that goes with it.

"Coaches often don't think about personality when deciding who to put in goals. The person really needs to be suited to it. It suits me because I like training on my own sometimes. You can be isolated at times so you need to be comfortable in your own company.

"People say goalkeepers are cocky but the reality is you have to be self-assured. There is no back-up and you have to be confident enough to deal with a mistake within seconds.

"I'm target-driven, I write down targets before every game like puck-outs or catches and then I concentrate on those little things. Things happen naturally when you have the work done."

Murray grew up during a golden era for goalkeepers, when Davy Fitzgerald, Ger Cunningham, Dónal Óg Cusack and Damien Fitzhenry were household names.

"I thought Davy was the bees knees when I was growing up because he was a small goalie. I'm only five foot three. When you looked at him, he looked raw but when you got to know him a bit then you learned all the training that went on behind him and I loved finding that out about him.

"I went training with him in Sixmilebridge and I nearly had to crawl to my car after it, the session was so tough. Ger Cunningham was coming to the end of his days when I was starting too and I loved watching him, he was so calm."

Cora Keohane was in goals when Murray first started out 16 years ago. After two seasons she got her chance between the posts under John Considine and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands. She's seen many girls come and go over the years.

"They have all been lovely and I worked quite well with them. I always said to them, 'We are going to work together, help each other out, find each other's weaknesses and we are both going to get better'. They know I will be aggressive in my training and I don't want to give up my spot.

"If I lose it I want to lose it to somebody for the right reasons. It's not my jersey anyway but if I don't get picked at least I've done everything possible and I can be a good second choice or back-up."

It's that intensity and attention to detail that makes Murray the player she is and keeps her coming back year after year. But there have been a couple of breaks in between - her first retirement in 2013 was short-lived and she returned to win back-to-back All-Irelands in the following two years.

Then after the 2015 final she decided to call time on her career for a second time. However, a trip to Ethiopia in March 2016 sparked something in her and she decided to go back to the county scene again.

They lost to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final last September, a tough one to take, but with seven titles already accumulated she knows that she can't win everything.

Her brother Paudie is the manager and Kevin is the head coach. It's a real family affair but this of course can bring some difficulties. "I don't find it the easiest," she admits. "On a personal level, I would prefer if they weren't involved, but as a player I'm delighted they are involved because they do such a good job.

"But growing up I was always Kevin or Paudie's sister and then after a while I was recognised in my own right as my own person and again now I'm the manager's sister not just Aoife Murray. It would be a lovely world if we were all seen as equal.

"I also find that if Paudie says something people automatically think that's what I say. Or if Paudie gives out to someone I might as well be doing it, or having the disagreement too. That is disappointing and hard. I'm there long enough, I'd hope people would know I've my own mind."

This year's All-Ireland final is a repeat of last year's, only this time it's the Cats who are the defending champions.

Murray has travelled up and down the road from Dublin to Cork more often that she'd like to recall but when the ball is thrown in today it will all feel worthwhile. Win or lose she's been living for that moment.

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