Cats defender has not had it easy in earning her spot on the team as she chases All-Ireland glory
Laura Murphy is still at pains to stress what a freak ‘that goal’ was.
Katie Power did the spade work by sucking in and breaking open the Galway defence before spotting her unmarked 25 metres out, but the distance, power and accuracy she found to beat Sarah Healy in the bottom left corner still made for a stunning and vital semi-final score.
Trailing by two, it was the tonic Kilkenny needed, and not only was it the only goal in the game but her first for the county in championship.
“Honestly, if you’d asked the team who was going to score a goal, they’d have me ranked 15th,” she laughs. “Aoife Norris (goalkeeper) is more likely to score one than me!”
“I just looked up and saw there was a good bit of space in front of me and thought, if Katie Power gets on this ball, there’s space ahead of me to run on. She found me with that super pass and I was just in the right place, right time and went for it.”
Murphy is equally modest about the point she added four minutes later, another critical score to end a run of three from Galway, putting her side ahead again at a critical juncture in a game dominated by suffocating defences.
In such an absolute arm-wrestle, when Kilkenny stalwarts like Denise Gaule and Miriam Walsh were kept unusually quiet, Murphy’s second-half contribution of 1-1 proved vital and noticeably came from wing-back.
The 25-year-old, who teaches Irish and history in Knocklyon in Dublin, describes herself as “somewhere between a half-back and midfielder.
“I play midfield for the club or anywhere in the middle third. You’d prefer midfield just the freedom to get up and down the pitch and do your own thing and try to contribute to defence and attack.”
She plays taller than her stature (5ft 4in) and her natural attacking instinct is ideal for a modern wing-back.
She also appreciates that the hardest thing in Kilkenny is to get your arms into a striped jersey; next toughest is holding on to it.
The O’Loughlin Gaels ball alley was her nursery, just a puck-out from Nowlan Park and 10 minutes from the family home in Johnswell.
She knew success early, winning junior and senior schools’ All-Irelands with the Loreto, where she was an awe-struck first year looking up to senior team-mates like Grace Walsh and Claire Phelan.
But her progress at adult level, in a county overloaded with talent, was not linear. Murphy was a first year in college when Ann Downey called her into the panel in 2016, but it took until 2020 to get her senior championship debut (against Waterford).
“I was on the panel for two years, wasn’t really making my way on to the team and then got re-graded to intermediate and I went abroad to America that summer (2018).”
Disillusioned? Sulking? “No! My college friends were all going on J1s (visas), it was one of those things you didn’t want to miss out on and we had a great time in San Diego, living in Mission Beach. I waitressed for two months and then did a month’s travelling.”
Did absence make the heart grow fonder?
“Yeah, I missed the camogie badly and watched as many matches as I could on the GAAGO app. I was mad to get back into it and lucky enough to get home in time for the club that summer.”
She returned to the intermediate panel for Kilkenny, but Brian Dowling called her up when he took over in 2020.
Yet even that All-Ireland victory, after the Cats’ three consecutive losses, was a little bitter-sweet.
She was named at midfield for the final but replaced before throw-in by a player who had made a heroic recovery and had to be content with a final-quarter appearance off the bench for Mary O’Connell.
“Kellyann (Doyle) came back, she had done super work to get back from a (torn) cruciate, so she started and had a brilliant game.
“It was obviously hard to take at the time, it’s very hard to miss out on an All-Ireland final, but I probably didn’t have my greatest game in the semi-final, which made the decision easy for the lads.”
Murphy was still making cameo appearances in last year’s knockout stages but has since become a vital cog in Kilkenny’s radically revamped defence that lost key figures in Meg Farrell, Colette Dormer and Davina Tobin this year.
They still retained some superstars, adjusted them positionally and the sum of their parts and their tireless swarming style has made up for any lack of experience.
“We lost players, but that happens. Lots of teams go through transitional periods, but we had so many girls looking to make their way onto the team.
“When opportunities arose, people were willing to take their chance,” Murphy said, citing the likes of young Tiffany Fitzgerald (younger sister of Steffi).
This time last year Fitzgerald was losing an All-Ireland intermediate final to Antrim. Now she’s a senior wing-back and nothing, apparently, fazes her.
“Tiffany is one of those girls who thinks pressure is for tyres,” Murphy chuckles. “We’re lucky too that Grace Walsh and Claire Phelan are there.
“Their experience is the glue that holds us together. Michelle Teehan is around since 2016 and her performance the last day also showed what a leader she is.”
In an emotional season for a team hit by tragedy off the pitch and bad injuries on it, she is especially grateful to be involved.
“Both Tommy (Shefflin) and Brian (Dowling) have suffered loss and you look at the two Doyle sisters (both tore cruciates) and Laura Norris, who’s also been out with injury for so long. They’d do anything to be out on a pitch. You’re looking at them and thinking, ‘I have this opportunity to do anything I can for the team’, and that’s a huge motivating factor.”