A European junior silver medal, four international appearances, a bagful of county, Munster and national medals and a profound positivity for the teams he led home. And all before the age of 20. Then a watershed personality in the development of athletics in his university. Just some of the highlights of Dan Murphy's short athletics career, resulting in him being dubbed 'The golden boy from Ardfert'.
Dan Murphy was born in Liscahane, Ardfert in 1951. He went to Ardfert NS and became interested in boxing in his early teens. Neighbours Patie and Willie Maguire sparred with him in the Murphy house. To get fit for boxing, they ran. Up the road was a man with a keen eye for running talent. Patrick Griffin was secretary of St John's AC in Tralee in 1966. St John's was the nearest athletic club. He asked them would they like to run with St John's. Said there was a youths' cross-country championships in Sneem the following Sunday. Dan came seventh in the race won by Joe Clifford. There were 35 runners and immediately the newest runner caught the running bug.
And so Dan Murphy the athlete was born. Like a whirlwind he won or was placed in road, track and cross-country races in Kerry in 1967 and 1968 and capped those years off by winning the Munster novice cross-country title in Listowel. Success continued in 1969 and he kick-started the year with his second provincial success. He won the Munster U-18 cross country title in Dromoland in Clare, leading his Kerry team to bronze medals. He was the rising tide for his county that lifted all boats.
Then came his first All-Ireland appearance. The national junior cross-country championships were held in Mallow in February 1969. In a hotly-contested race, the Kerry man was beaten by Eddie Leddy of Leitrim. A reality check. Back home in Ardfert, mileage was upped to eighty miles per week in Banna and on the merciless Sliabh.
There was a silver lining in that silver medal in Mallow. Dan got the news of a place on the Irish junior team for an invitational cross-country in Scotland. Saturday, March 22, 1969 came and found him in Clydebank. His first international. He finished 18th and was a scoring member of the Irish team. He brought that year to a close with a brilliant win in the Munster intermediate cross country championships in Killavullen, Co Cork.
And so 1970 dawned. Sunday, January 18 and the Munster junior cross-country championships in Lismore, Co Waterford. A battle with Ryan of Cork but Dan was took the gold. Munster was his love.
Then the day of his life only a week later in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Northern Spain. Sunday January 25. With him Eddie Leddy of Leitrim and Pat Gregan of Dublin. Three on the team, three to run and three to score. A team medal position meant future invitations for the new BLE national organisation. Against 117 other invited runners, Dan finished second, not far behind the local flyer, Ferreira. Team silver medals also and satisfactory job done for his country again. A civic reception in Tralee on the following Tuesday before going home to milk the cows.
Out again the very next Sunday, February 1. St Brigid's Day. Wexford Racecourse and his first All-Ireland intermediate cross-country championships. It was the inaugural running of the event over six miles. There were 340 athletes milling at the start. Dan and Eddie Leddy shoulder-to-shoulder over the last miles with mud and scraws flying off their powerful heels. And then with a mile to go, the Kerry man felt fresh air in his face as the Leitrim man's breathing faded back and he won with fifty yards to spare. Gladiator for another Sunday. Two weeks later in Grange, Co Cork in the All-Ireland junior cross-country championships, Dan led Kerry to bronze medals in the inter-county event while coming in third himself.
Two weeks later and the national senior cross-country championships in Thurles. A big step up. Travelled with Seán Spaight and Patrick O'Riordan in the Morris Minor. Former neighbour Tom O'Riordan went on to win the title for the second time in three years. Dan finished 8th after the seven and a half miles. Two weeks later again, Dan appeared in his third international cross-country in Vichy near Paris. A brilliant victory by arch rival John Hartnett with the Ardfert man back in 20th.
September 1970 brought another international appearance after a national junior silver 3000m in Glenstal. The European junior athletics championships in Vichy. September in Paris. This time on the track in the 3,000m. Qualified in the semi-final on Saturday but a frantic pace in Sunday's final by Korchenkov, the Russian talent, caught him out and he finished in 10th in a time of 8:43. Track was never to be his favourite but now rated 10th in Europe in that event.
At the end of 1970 he attained a role which will be forever his. He became the first chairman of Ardfert AC. The group of Ardfert athletes who had been the mainstay of St John's AC in Tralee decided to go on their own. And they did. Brave move.
The new year of 1971 brough news from the US - a scholarship from Washington State University. Dan was 19 years of age. The world was his but he kept it to himself. And there was one sign-off to complete his career in Ireland. The Munster junior cross-country in Knockraha, Cork. He took the gold medal ahead of Mick O'Shea of Limerick and Tony O'Leary of Cork for a third provincial junior title. A special one for his new club also, Ardfert AC, as they clinched the bronze medals in the club race. At this stage he had led his club, his county and his country to medal positions.
He went into action straight away for Washington State College in the US and finished a brilliant fourth in the NCAA cross-country championships in 1971 behind soon-to-be Olympian Steve Prefontaine. Dan led his team into the medals and would do so on many occasions in the future, elevating Washington State University to top athletic status.
Racing most weekends then and piling on the training, the body began to feel the effort of the three glorious years that Dan made it happen. Graduating, he returned to Ireland around 1975. He farmed the good land in Ardfert. He was a wise and witty man to be around. He later married and raised a family. Tragedy struck when his wife died some years later. Life, like sport, can be cruel but he raised their three children well and faced the day like he had faced racing. Fearless.
Eddie Leddy, twice Irish Olympian observed: "I loved Dan…he was both an absolute gentleman but also had this wicked competitive spirit. He would run you down in competition". A life summed up.
Dan Murphy was laid to rest in Ardfert on March 4 last, shortly after his 70th birthday. Sympathy to his family, friends, neighbours and co-athletes.
The golden boy from Ardfert will not be forgotten.