Monday 22 January 2018

Molumphy's life less ordinary

Beirut marathon, thesis on Hezbollah and a new-born baby keeping Deise star busy ahead of Munster opener

Waterford's Stephen Molumphy in league action against Galway's Aidan Harte in February
Waterford's Stephen Molumphy in league action against Galway's Aidan Harte in February
Stephen Molumphy and wife Niamh at the 2012 GAA GPA All-Star awards
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There are many novel ways to pack in a pre-season for a hurling championship, but Stephen Molumphy can probably supplant everything else for uniqueness with what he did early on a Sunday morning late last year.

Running a marathon around the streets of Beirut isn't exactly the most regular pursuit for a hurler in advance of a new season.

But then Waterford's versatile 30-year-old has always had that 'life less ordinary' with his experience as an Irish Army officer.

The once war-torn city, that still tingles with a strong undercurrent of mistrust between rival religious sects and the influence of neighbours on all border lines, opened its streets last November and allowed runners down routes that they might never ordinarily have safe passage through.

But on this day, there is amnesty for all. Political opponents set aside differences and even soldiers serving as part of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) come in for the day and take part.

In that context, Molumphy, a captain serving on a third tour of duty, wasn't going to pass up such an opportunity.

The country and its tangled history fascinates him, the internecine violence, the exterior influences, the conflict between the different sides of the same faith and who they align to all sway his attention.

STAMINA

What began with 5k and 8k runs through the dusty tracks that surround Camp 6-45 to build fitness and stamina for the commencement of pre-season training on his return in December turned into a four-hour adventure with quite a difference.

"It was a great way to see Beirut. A lot of parts of that city you wouldn't be able to go to because of bombings," he revealed.

For his thesis to complete a masters in Military History and Strategic Studies – which he has been taking on a part-time basis over the last four years in Maynooth – he has written about Hezbollah in Syria, opting to ditch his original plan to research the work of the IRA in west Waterford during the War of Independence.

Heavy material, but the Middle East, he admitted, consumes him. Army life has brought him to Germany, where he spent nine months in 2008 with the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) as part of an Erasmus exchange from NUIG, where he was studying German and History. He's also been to Poland and spent six months in Chad. But he's drawn to one of the world's great conflict zones.

"I thought I knew a bit about it (Middle East) going out. I didn't know one per cent of what I know now and even that is still only a percentage of what guys who have been out there for years would know," he said.

He offers a potted history of the dynamics at work.

"On the surface, it looks calm, calm and quieter in a sense from what it was. It's like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces missing, other pieces not fitting together.

"Hezbollah at the moment are all powerful. Then you have Muslims with two distinct groups, Shias and Sunnis, you have Christians, so you have all these different sects, they still have a power-sharing agreement which dates back to 1937 because they don't want to change in case anyone gets power, so it is absolutely crazy.

"That reflects on the ground and now with Hezbollah, who would be the Shia sect, involved in Syria, it is causing massive problems at home because they are over fighting against Sunnis there. It is all spilling over."

Into that mix, Irish soldiers try to hold the line and Molumphy doesn't seek to dilute the threat that still exists despite the perception of calm.

"Syria still carries the greater threat (for Irish peacekeepers), but the Irish troops in the 1980s and 1990s – and it wasn't much known – faced a lot of physical danger, they were being shelled in the middle of firefights. It was far more physically dangerous, yet like now, it's a lot quieter, but simmering more under the surface."

Molumphy ended a six-month tour in December that took him out of arguably the greatest hurling championship there has been.

They got to watch bits and pieces in camp, thanks to the inventive work of a communications expert, but the sense of what was happening never really hit home. Lebanon and the duty in hand doesn't allow for such luxury.

"I would have to say it passed me by. I saw both All-Ireland finals, listened to Waterford and Offaly on radio. It sounded enthralling, but you had no great concept out there how good it actually had been."

He kept his eye in by hitting shots at a practice range set up by two colleagues as part of a exercise to promote better relations with locals.

Well into the earlier part of the year, he still wasn't sure whether he could continue to commit to Derek McGrath's new project.

Living in west Waterford, commuting each day to Collins Barracks in Cork, where he is now based, training up to three times a week in Waterford and two visits a week to Maynooth on top of a new-born baby at home provided a set of logistics that should have pushed him back out the door.

"It was difficult and if my Niamh hadn't supported it, I wouldn't be doing it in the circumstances. Derek McGrath said it this year and Davy said it before, once you stop, you never go back. That's why I said I'd give it another go."

He was one of the original pioneers of roving forward play, a propensity he admits he developed at club level with Ballyduff Upper and took to another level under Justin McCarthy.

What role he can play over the summer remains to be seen. Right now, he is battling a hamstring injury that has afflicted him for almost six weeks, casting his participation in Sunday's Munster championship opener against Cork in doubt.

The Waterford squad that he came home to last December felt revitalised.

At 30, he is the third oldest, just a few years younger than Seamus Prendergast and Michael 'Brick' Walsh.

"There's a huge gap between us and most of the rest. The average age is something like 22.4. It's all building, building building. Look at Clare, it's a prime example. That's the way it's going. With time and commitment, it's so much harder to do other things," he said.

"Between rest and recovery, everything is so important to get that half a per cent (more) than the other team."

But Waterford now, he senses, have young players who are ambitious beyond what he could ever have imagined a Waterford hurler could be to seek that extra half per cent.

"What I can't get over is their commitment. They are fully focused. Growing up, it was a case of doing the best we could, but underage now is far more professional. I remember giving a talk two years ago to U-16s and their attitude then was just something else, even from U-14s.

"So they are coming on to the programme now and they are a lot more dedicated. They know what they want. They are willing to sacrifice seven or eight years of their life, give nothing else to anything. And they will get reward."

Irish Independent

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