Murphy driving Carlow charge for glory
Published 25/06/2011 | 05:00
IT WASN'T his outrageous 'Maurice Fitzgerald-like' lineball, or the fact that he kicked three of Carlow's last four points, which was the most remarkable facet of Brendan Murphy's pivotal role in their shock victory over Louth.
Anyone who has ever seen the towering 6' 5" midfielder at minor and U-21 level knew the Rathvilly star was capable of such a scene-stealing performance.
What was really noteworthy was that it was only Murphy's second senior championship appearance and tomorrow's Leinster SFC semi-final against Wexford will be his third.
Two of his potential U-21 seasons were spent playing Aussie Rules and he only turned 22 last March, yet his stature and performances make it seem like he's been around a lot longer.
He has played very little for Carlow this year, too, through a combination of an early season injury and enlisting in the army.
Manager Luke Dempsey even goes so far as to say: "If we'd had him all year, he'd be 40pc better!"
"Brendan's been weighed down this year with the heavy physical training he's been doing with the army," Dempsey explained.
"When that is finished he has massive football potential still to be realised and how good he is can be measured by those last 10 minutes against Louth."
Whatever Murphy does, the arc lights seem to follow him and not just because he won a county minor title aged just 15 and the first of two U-21s a year later.
Last year, with Dublin clinging on desperately in the dying minutes of extra-time in a Leinster U-21 semi-final, Murphy soared into the air to win a ball 25 metres from goal.
To this day, Carlow claim he was fouled and that they should have earned a replay, but instead Murphy was blown for over-carrying.
The Dubs held on and went on to win the U-21 All-Ireland.
The referee needed a garda escort from the field.
Murphy's senior championship debut last May also ended painfully.
While Wicklow won by 10 points, he was the Man of the Match.'
However, he was sent off for some verbals at the ref in the 62nd minute, which left him suspended for Carlow's subsequent qualifier loss to Derry.
And Rathvilly's season ended in heartbreak too, as they lost the county final to Old Leighlin in a replay, just 24 hours after he'd made his International Rules debut.
Earlier this season, Murphy was unwittingly thrown into a more unlikely spotlight when Bernard Jackman, a fellow-Carlovian, made an astonishing revelation in his 'Blue Blood' autobiography.
Jackman wrote that, three years ago, Leinster rugby boss Michael Cheika had offered Murphy a €30,000 two-year contract to join their academy.
This, even though Murphy, who had been at Tullow Community School with rising star Sean O'Brien and was already on an Aussie Rules contract, had never played a game of rugby in his life.
Murphy confirmed the story, describing the offer as "a bit unreal, it came out of the blue," but said the figure mentioned was an exaggeration.
Yet he still didn't have a lash at Jackman, saying: "Bernard is a nice lad. I'd say he was just trying to promote his book. I don't think he meant it to be as big a story as it was."
That reaction confirmed his reputation as a laid-back individual, except, of course, when he's on the field of play.
It is believed that Brisbane scouts attended the 2007 Leinster minor football final to recruit a Laois prodigy, but Murphy, who'd been outstanding during Carlow's back-door odyssey, especially against Westmeath, completely stole their attention.
Sydney Swans eventually signed him on a two-year rookie contract that winter, thanks largely to the intervention of Tadhg Kennelly, with whom the Carlow lad lived near Bondi Beach for much of his time Down Under.
Two weeks after touchdown he demonstrated his powerful engine by beating all but two of his new AFL team-mates when third in a 3k time trial on the track in 10 minutes 12 seconds.
Over the next two years he played 25 games for Sydney's reserves in the VFL and was very close to a senior call-up, but was repeatedly stymied by injury, including shoulder reconstruction in April 2009.
When offered a new contract he felt he had to decline.
Homesickness is regularly cited when GAA players return prematurely from Oz, but Catherine Murphy, a Cavan-born sports reporter with Fox Sports in Australia, says he never demonstrated any.
"Brendan was desperate to get into a senior jersey and line out on the same team as Tadhg," she recalls of her compatriot.
"Some players who come out here from Ireland understandably dwell on what they're missing at home, but though they were waiting for that to happen, he was fully focused on playing AFL."
Murphy actually wrote a weekly 'Down Under' diary for the 'Carlow Nationalist' while in Sydney, where his determination and frustration were there for all to see.
Of his sojourn he would later say: "People often laugh and slag, saying that you were homesick, but it wasn't that.
"I was actually settled over there. I just wasn't enjoying myself anymore; I wasn't enjoying the training and didn't enjoy playing in the games.
"I spoke to the family back home and I said it can't be a good sign. It was wrecking my head for the past month or two out there.
"The night before I was supposed to sign the contract for another two years, I just couldn't do it. It wouldn't have been fair on the club as my heart just wouldn't have been in it."
Three weeks after he landed home, Murphy starred in Rathvilly's 2009 county SFC semi-final victory over Eire Og and within weeks, they had claimed their first county title since 2004.
They were trained at the time by ex-Galway senior John Divilly, who said of Murphy's surprise return: "The papers had it before we even knew.
"But even when he was home on holidays the previous year, he came off the bench for us."
Murphy is the youngest of a family of four who have all played football for club and county.
Stephen still lines out for Rathvilly; Brian, dogged by injury himself, was at corner-forward against Louth, while Maura -- Carlow's representative in the 2005 Rose of Tralee -- also plays rugby and is captain of Tullow RFC's ladies' team.
Carlow's U-21s have been Leinster semi-finalists in three of the last four years.
Those teams, and their 2007 minors, provide Darragh Foley, Shane Redmond, Daniel St Ledger, Conor Mullins, Conor Lawlor and (currently injured) Barry John Molloy to their new-look seniors, but, as usual, it is 'Murph' who is head and shoulders above them all.