Monday 23 April 2018

Footballer Juliet Murphy is a natural-born winner

Juliet Murphy's impressive haul of medals means she is one of the greats of ladies' football, but she is just as busy off the field, writes Alison O'Riordan

Juliet Murphy photographed in UCC indoor running arena Cork City
Juliet Murphy photographed in UCC indoor running arena Cork City
Juliet Murphy photographed in UCC's indoor running arena. Picture Clare Keogh
Juliet celebrates Cork's All-Ireland Ladies Football Final over Monaghan last September. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE
Juliet talks to Dáithí O Sé after receiving the Players’ Player of the Year award at the 2011 All-Star Awards in Dublin.

Alison O’Riordan

Eight-time All-Ireland winner Juliet Murphy may have announced her retirement from both inter-county and club football in July last year but that doesn't mean the Irish sportswoman has turned her back on all things active.

The 33-year-old from north Cork has had a glittering career playing with her local club Donoughmore where she won the Senior All-Ireland in 2001 and 2003 and then went on to captain Cork to three All-Ireland triumphs in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and amazingly winning another five titles there after.

"My Dad represented Ireland at road bowling (an Irish sport in which competitors attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a metal ball along a predetermined course of country roads).

"He also played football and my three older brothers play football locally and my sister Marguerite plays basketball. My parents were keen to have us all involved in sport at a young age," said the ladies' Gaelic football player.

One of the most decorated players ever to grace the game, as a child she would play Gaelic football at home with her brothers and then at weekends her cousins would call over for contentious soccer matches.

"My brother Ollie taught me how to solo and kick. In school I played with the boys' team as there wasn't a girls' team and when I turned 11 years of age, I joined the local ladies' football team in Donoughmore.

"It was always competitive I suppose. Even in school we had the Sciath na Scol competition (a schools-based organisation which organises Gaelic games in the primary schools of Cork) and we played with the boys. Our club team were always very serious about football and our coach Mossie Barrett ensured we placed football at the top of our priority list."

A natural to all things athletic, Juliet also played basketball with Ireland from 15 to 21 years of age.

"It was a great start to get in terms of high-intensity training and good nutrition. In those days we stayed in the squash courts of the various halls around the country, just our sleeping bags, pillows and cassette players to our name," she says.

When the sporting fanatic first played football with Cork at underage, the team would travel all over the county to train.

"We had great times playing. We didn't have any success at senior level at all. At that time players had more of a focus on their clubs and didn't commit hugely to inter-county football."

However, it was playing with her local club Donoghmore that the Cork native won All-Ireland titles in 2001 and 2003 which she calls "amazing times".

"We used to travel in convoy to all the games. It was like being in our own army. It was such a fantastic time which almost spanned two decades. Our greatest win was against our nemesis Ballymacarbry of Waterford. We had failed to beat them for so many years it was unbelievable to finally get over the line against them."

Captaining Cork to All-Ireland titles for three consecutive years in a row, 2005, 2006 and 2007 was a "great honour" for Juliet and it is something she reflects on with huge affection.

"I guess at the time I didn't over think it too much. There were always so many leaders on the field I never felt under pressure with that role.

"I suppose the first one against Galway will always be extra special being the first one. It was all so new to us. The crowd ran on to the field after the game and smothered us. It was exhilarating and overwhelming."

In the intervening years, the midfielder and her 14 teammates success continued, with them winning the All-Ireland five more times in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, losing out only in 2010, with Dublin claiming the Championship in the end.

"We got beaten in 2010 by Tyrone in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final. We were devastated as we thought it might have been the end of an era for the team. However, in December of that year we met and decided we all wanted to give it another go. Thankfully it all worked out."

Winning never seemed to be out of the reach for the modest Cork girl who was considered one of the best, if not the best who played the game, picking-up five All Stars, as well as player of the year in 2011.

"Of course it is a great honour to get an All Star. I have always maintained the same philosophy about individual awards over the years; I don't place a huge emphasis on them personally.

"While it is nice to get chosen it is not the be all and end all. I know that may sound flippant but I think it is important to be balanced about such awards."

Retiring in January 2013 at the height of her game came as a shock to those around her, especially Cork manager Eamon Ryan, as many thought Juliet still had more time to give. However, the player listened to her body and more so her mindset:

"I felt that I didn't have it in me anymore. I was beginning to lack motivation to do pre-season training and to get my mind ready for the year. It was the first time that I ever questioned my ability to commit and so I thought it was best to retire."

Like something out of a movie, the football star completed a dramatic retirement U-turn in July 2013. The Cork legend returned to the game during a match against Armagh in Birr. A testament to her rebel instincts, she then continued to help her side Cork overcome tipped teams such as Dublin and Kerry to bring home The Brendan Martin Cup to Leeside for an unbelievable eighth time in nine years.

"I decided I was going to return to club training in the summer as we didn't have the numbers and then Castlehaven native and player Nollaig Cleary was chatting to me about coming back to Cork training.

"I was very hesitant initially. The girls were so welcoming when I did return and I will be forever grateful to them for that. The victory . . . it's difficult to actually articulate it. It was extremely emotional when the final whistle blew. It was such an exciting game and a thrilling finish. We did celebrate for a long time after that win."

The former footballer of the year who is also a primary school teacher in Scoil Bhride in Crosshaven where she teaches sixth class, has not returned to competitive football since then and has no desire to don the red for the 2014 All-Ireland Championships, commenting: "I haven't managed to fill the void yet . . . I suppose I never will."

While running may not have replaced the special place in her heart that Gaelic football occupies, pounding the pavements in her Lycra pants has certainly come a second best."I do a running programme after school in the Airport Business Park in conjunction with the Cork International Airport Hotel every Tuesday and Thursday.

"There are two groups: beginners and advanced. We do some strength and conditioning after the running and it is really handy for people to get their workout done before they go home. I really enjoy bringing fitness to their doorstep. I am also working with Pfizer, again this is an after-work programme every Monday and Wednesday. We have great fun and they are getting fit too," Juliet says.

The sports-crazed competitor also owns the Juliet Health and Fitness Club in Ballincollig which also offers a sports specialised programme to local sports teams to help them gain that all important edge.

"I enjoy the buzz fitness gives. Sometimes people can be allergic to doing their workout or attending a class but you always see them so happy when the session is over. I have always been passionate about health and fitness, the gym is a way for me to fulfil that passion."

Also mindful of those less fortunate, Juliet finds time to do her bit for charity:

"In the gym we have raised over €150k for various charities. We run what's called a Feel Good Do Good Challenge. People are broken up into teams with a mentor and a personal trainer.

"They train together for eight weeks and go about raising money for charity. The training involves running, weights, core and boxing. At the end we hold a gala fashion show and the ladies and gents get spruced up for the night itself."

And on top of all of this, "Cork's missing link" is a Skechers Performance ambassador for the American shoe company which means she gets to test the latest runners on the market.

"Skechers sponsored the Cork Ladies Football last year. Each player and the management team got a lovely pair of runners which was great. I am currently training with the Go Run 3 and I love them," the multi-All-Ireland winner explains.

Running the FIT series race on Castle Road in Mahon Amenity Walk in Cork at 10am on Sunday July 13 is a new departure for the fitness addict with the official Footwear Partner for the race Skechers Performance Division.

"It makes me feel good being out in the fresh air. I like the feeling after a good run. I better get training for it. I will aim to do the 10k in 45 minutes, this would be respectable for an old one like me.


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