Friday 23 March 2018

Murphy geared up to earn place on plane to Rio

Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise will be bidding for a place on Ireland Olympic team
Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise will be bidding for a place on Ireland Olympic team

Aisling Crowe

Growing up in Mullingar, Joseph Murphy and his twin brother Ciarán were football-crazy. They dreamed of running out on the Cusack Park pitch, donning the maroon and white of Westmeath, All-Ireland medals the glorious culmination of their childhood imaginings.

If their early dreams had become the reality of their present life, this weekend the twins would be preparing for the next championship outing against Wexford. Instead Joseph is in France, competing in three-day event at Saumur before returning home for the Tattersalls International Horse Trials, taking place in Ratoath, Co Meath from Wednesday until Sunday.

How did two GAA-mad Midlands boys with a passion for football and a family who all played on county teams end up as an Irish Olympian - Joseph - and the assistant trainer of an Irish Grand National winner, Ciarán.

The answer lies in a Danish three-day eventer. Dot Love moved to Mullingar from her native Denmark more than four decades ago and when the teenage twins discovered they loved horses more than football, it was Love who nurtured their talent and passion.

Joseph was based at Love's Churchtown Stud for 12 years where he honed his riding skills and perfected his style under Love's experience and careful eye. He even tried racing, taking out a licence and riding in point-to-points. That was enjoyable but it was eventing which laid claim to his passion.

"I was working on the family farm for a while and then worked as a plasterer for four years. I decided to go back to college and do my degree in quantity surveying and while I was studying, I kept tipping away at the horses," Murphy says before he prepares to board a ferry that will take him and Sportsfield Othello to France.

"Dot and her daughter Melanie gave me the opportunity to learn dressage and I loved training horses, I loved working with them and getting to know them. Because of the nature of the sport, event riders need a rapport with their horses and training, producing and competing at a high level is what I loved the most."

Ciarán stayed racing, the humour and warmth in his twin's voice evident when he says, "I was second jockey to Ciarán! I enjoyed racing and I still have a huge interest in it but I took the line of eventing and Ciarán was better suited to racing."

Now based on the shores of Strangford Lough with his wife Jill, Murphy is Ireland's leading international event rider. Top of the national and international charts, he was part of the team that earned Irish eventing a place in the Rio Olympics next year. He is understandably proud that they were the first Irish team in any sport to earn qualification to the 2016 Olympics.

Having been an Olympian at London with Electric Cruise, jumping two magnificent clear rounds in the show-jumping phase that helped Ireland claim fifth in the team competition and Murphy and his Irish-bred gelding finish in 14th place in the individual competition, Rio is where he wants to be next summer.

Now Murphy and his three high-performance horses must go and earn the rider the right to be on that team. How he, Electric Cruise and Top Story all perform at Tattersalls will have a bearing on his chances. Sportsfield Othello this weekend too has the opportunity to nudge himself and Murphy closer to that flight to Brazil.

"For me, lots of the top riders will be competing at Tattersalls and the atmosphere will be unbelievable. I need to know where I stand in relation to the best riders in the world and to do that I have to compete against them, ride with them, see what their ideas are like, how they cope with the good and the bad days and how they train their horses but I couldn't describe the atmosphere there will be," Murphy says.

In the top CIC3* class he will compete with Electric Cruise and Top Story while he brings Bellscross Starlight to the young horse competition. Murphy's horses are almost exclusively Irish-bred and the owners, a vital support to any rider, he counts as friends.

Many will come along to support him in Meath over the five days but he will share his time with fans, spectators and sponsors alike.

"I'm going to a big event in France but I'm looking forward to coming home to the buzz of Tattersalls," Murphy says.

On Tuesday night at Tattersalls house he will take part in a charity evening with Badminton winner William Fox-Pitt to raise money for the Katie Nugent Fund and Child Vision. Each year at the event, Murphy likes to involve some element of charity fundraising, an opportunity to give of himself in a sport that demands so much individual focus.

As ever, the football-mad Mullingar man will have his twin brother to talk to and Dot Love's advice to call on. "Dot is a wonderful influence on my career and I talk to her during all the big events. I'm lucky to have such wonderful support."

Sunday Indo Sport

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