Monday 11 November 2019

The hurler, the metal fabricator and the model: Meet the Birr man gunning for county glory

Saturday Interview

Birr hurler Oisín Murphy with English model Adwoa Aboah pictured in a photoshoot for ‘Vogue Paris’ last year
Birr hurler Oisín Murphy with English model Adwoa Aboah pictured in a photoshoot for ‘Vogue Paris’ last year
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

This week, Oisín Murphy will fight all the same battles in his mind as thousands of other young men preparing for county finals at this time of year.

He'll try to keep busy without burning energy, attempt to stay focused without drowning in the anticipation of what is the biggest game of his young career.

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At 20 and playing with hurling royalty like Birr, he could reasonably expect to see more county finals after tomorrow's clash with St Rynagh's. However, Murphy isn't ordinary. There is nothing straightforward or routine about what might come next for him.

By day, he's a metal fabricator, serving his time at Concrete and Quarry in Tullamore. By night, he's a model, best known in these parts for appearing in 'Vogue Paris' in a Cushendall jersey.

His is a most extraordinary double life.

For the most part, hurling's most handsome man trundles through the days like the rest of us. An ordinary man, doing ordinary things. When he's not hurling he likes a pint and meeting friends.

But every so often the modelling world calls and sends his life off into a world of catwalks and fashion weeks.

It's a cut-throat existence. Living in Ireland puts him at an immediate disadvantage. Potential clients have to cover travel expenses as well as his fee which means models based here often gets passed over.

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Before the 'Vogue Paris' breakthrough, work came in dribs and drabs. But a meeting with a well-known photographer in London changed everything. He asked him to forgo his long hair and shave his head.

And in a moment it all changed. The welder from Birr was suddenly at the zenith of high fashion. The photo of him in hurling gear in 'Vogue' was picked up here. A blaze of publicity followed with endless requests for interviews and an appearance on the Ray D'Arcy Show. If the photo of him in hurling gear hadn't been included, Murphy wouldn't have been surprised if the shoot had gone unnoticed. After all, when he told some of his friends he landed the job, their reply was, 'What's 'Vogue Paris'?'

"I don't know if it was a plan or not but they wanted to do a shot in the hurling club," Murphy recalls in his strong Offaly accent.

"And the lad that was there was the chairman or something and he had jerseys in the boot of his car. And there was a team training there. So we had boots, socks, togs. The whole lot. Helmet and hurl.

Oisín Murphy in action for the club against Dave Kenny of Belmont
Oisín Murphy in action for the club against Dave Kenny of Belmont

"I was out pucking about with the (Cushendall) boys between shots. They probably thought . . . I don't know what they thought . . . but I was out pucking around with them and they got a great laugh out of that, they weren't expecting me to be able to hurl."

Before that break, he had been on the verge of packing it in. When he was still a Leaving Cert student he did some work through an agency in London, but when it came to getting paid, they stopped answering his calls.

"That agency, they just blanked me. They didn't have any interest. What can you do? At 17? What could I do? People would often say, 'Why didn't you get your money, Murph?' But what could I do? There were no documents, I had no contract signed, there was nothing done at the time. I had nothing to fall back on. And after that I had no interest whatsoever at one stage."

The industry had taught him a harsh lesson.

"You wouldn't want to be soft-hearted. You have to have a bit of a neck on you. You are going to have to take rejection. Sometimes you could be lined up for a job and they'll say, 'Be ready for this date' just to make sure you are available. And then the day before they'll be like, 'Oh, you don't have the job'. You can't take it to heart."

So Birr can add high fashion model to the broad and varied list of people it has produced. His next-door neighbour is Leinster prop Peter Dooley. Another of his friends, Mikey Milne, is also on the province's books and replaced Dooley in the win over the Ospreys to make a try-scoring debut at the RDS. Regardless of your pursuit, he knows that people around home want to see their neighbours succeed.

"It's good to see people from around Birr doing well for themselves. Everyone kind of backs you around here. We still keep our groundings and our bearings, that's important."


Work has come easier since 'Vogue' saw fit to include him, the rule being that if you're good enough for them, then you're good enough for pretty much everything else. He's since appeared in campaigns for ASOS, LifeStyle Sports and adidas.

It also opened up the door to runway modelling and he was booked for Paris Fashion Week. He was looking for two things from that walk for French firm Vetements; to get his face out there to agencies and to perhaps open the door to more work in Paris.

But if he thought he had the thing cracked, reality put him back on his backside.

"It ended up I was wearing a balaclava for the yoke. That was the outfit. They didn't care what your face looked like. I had great expectations. Going to Paris. I was going to get my face out there on the catwalk and then you are put in a balaclava! And I was there, 'What can you do?'

"We went into an agency after it too. And they just said we like your look but you're just a little bit small. And that's it. They say it to you straight, 'We don't think you are tall enough'. What can you do?."

Too short, at 6'1''.

The next step in his modelling career will, at the behest of his agency, take him to New York sometime in 2020. However, experience has told him he needs "something to fall back on" so he'll finish the next phase of his apprenticeship before trading one world for another.

Even with the move to one of the world's fashion capitals there are no guarantees. Making money is hard. You only get paid when you work. There are no retainers. And agency fees can range from 20 to 40 per cent. What's more, magazine work, such as the 'Vogue Paris' shoot, is unpaid. Your reward there is exposure and prestige rather than euro and cent.

That's for another day. For now, tomorrow and St Rynagh's have all his attention. While he's followed his brother Ronan, who recently worked for Calvin Klein, into the modelling world, he'll be proud to line out alongside another sibling, Brendan, tomorrow. At times he moves in an impossibly glamorous world. But hurling gives him a high he can't replace. One ordinary young man living two very different lives.

"When the whistle blows and the adrenaline starts, that's what I love, being pumped for a game, boys roaring on the side. You can't experience that anywhere else. You won't get that behind a camera doing a shoot in London. It's a very different thing."

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