Wednesday 21 November 2018

Comment: A championship of equals? Brendan Murphy's trip Stateside suggests not

Brendan Murphy
Brendan Murphy

Frank Roche

Last week’s news that Brendan Murphy was heading Stateside for the summer piqued our interest in more ways than one.

First came the initial, straight-forward response – this is a seismic setback to Carlow’s hopes of emulating, whatever about eclipsing, last summer’s epic Championship adventure.

Then the delayed reaction, as the mind wandered back to last February, an interview with Paddy O’Rourke on the AIB GAA blog … and the furious retort of Murphy to one particular comment from the just-retired Meath ‘keeper.

In the course of a wide-ranging interview explaining why he could no longer justify the soaring commitment levels required at inter-county level, O’Rourke admitted: “If we’re honest in Meath, we’re not getting any closer to where we want to go.

“Winning Leinster again or challenging for an All-Ireland doesn’t look realistic any time soon, and in fact it feels like it is farther away than ever.”

Later in the interview came the comment that so infuriated Carlow’s most famous footballer.

“How can a Carlow or Leitrim, for example, expect to make their way into a Super 8 group, beat a Tyrone for example, and then push on after that? They can’t,” O’Rourke maintained.

Murphy duly responded on Twitter: “This absolutely boils my blood, ignorance and arrogance.”

The following month, during a lengthy and fascinating Irish Examiner interview, Carlow boss Turlough O’Brien described O’Rourke’s own interview as “the most depressing thing I’ve ever read”.

“I was fierce disappointed with him,” he added. “A Meath man to say what he said. That they have no hope. I couldn’t believe it. I cannot believe that.”

Maybe O’Brien has a point: how has it reached the stage where a long-serving Meath footballer has given up the ghost?

Yet any analysis of Meath’s form graph this decade – through League and Championship – makes O’Rourke’s point even more graphically. In terms of challenging Dublin, Meath are no longer at the races.

Based purely on the evidence of spring, there is no guarantee that they’ll even survive their May 27 trek to Longford.

As for O’Rourke’s Carlow reference, insulting or otherwise, it came in the context of a complaint about the Super 8s – what he termed a “misguided structure” that makes the game “more elite-focused than ever”, under which “the strong will get stronger; the weak weaker”.

Fast-forward to last week and the story that Murphy will be playing football in the States this summer.

“It’s disappointing but we understand the situation he is in,” said O’Brien, who added that Murphy would have been an injury doubt for their May 13 Leinster SFC opener against Louth in any event.

“The League was our priority all along, we got our promotion and Division 3 will be our next really major goal. To stay up in that division next year will be the big thing,” the Carlow boss added.

However, doesn’t that cut to the heart of this debate? On the cusp of Championship, here is a manager openly conceding that their next major target is spring 2019, not this very month.

There’s a reason for this.

For all the fanfare and romance attached to Carlow’s 2017 summer run, their more recent achievement has greater long-term significance.

They have finally escaped the Division 4 dungeon; next year they can set, as an achievable goal, consolidation against opponents of a similar standing.  

Whereas hoping to win a Leinster title, in this era of Dublin dominance, is not even a pipe dream. 

As for reaching the Super 8s? Maybe Murphy’s departure says it more tellingly than any words from a former Meath ‘keeper.

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