Sport Rugby

Friday 6 December 2019

'He is as skilful as they come on a rugby pitch . . . an absolute legend'

Geordan Murphy.
Geordan Murphy.
David Kelly

David Kelly

In his mind, Geordan Murphy had already retired from international rugby, as he told this newspaper for the first time last January when excluded from Declan Kidney's Six Nations squad.

It's just that in his heart of hearts, he dreaded the day when the reality of it kicked in. When Kidney this week omitted him from a New Zealand touring party shorn of several high-profile back-three players, the Newbridge man knew it was time to bid farewell to the green jersey he wore with distinction on 72 occasions over 12 eventful years.

"I am not in and you know when it's time to hang up your boots at any level," he said.

"I have had some tremendous memories with the squad but it is time for some young lads to come in and prepare for the next World Cup. I haven't spoken to him -- Declan -- about it, but I am going to give him a shout. That's it."

Ironically, when so many of his injury-plagued compatriots have prematurely departed the Irish scene in recent times, Murphy does so on his terms, comfortable in the knowledge that, even at 34, he can finish his accomplished Leicester club career where he has already attained legendary status.

A self-confessed avoider of the bench press and the rowing machine, Murphy was a rarity in a modern game populated by swathes of gym monkeys who can barely pass more than three yards off either side.

His lithe frame was at once his greatest asset and a liability, particularly on some notable occasions, as Ronan O'Gara once alluded to acidly after his missed tackle on Raphael Ibanez in the first ever Croke Park international against France in 2007.

More often than not, however, his sublime skill-set obviated his lighter physical frame and the good far outweighed the bad.

His bravery was unquestioned. After missing the 2003 World Cup when breaking his leg in a World Cup warm-up at Murrayfield, fate would decree that he would return there four years later in a virtual trial to seal his place for the 2007 edition.

Mirroring the circumstances of the horrific leg break four years on, Murphy barely blinked as he soared to take a high ball on virtually the same patch of turf. Typically, he landed unharmed.

He would only play a token few minutes in that fateful tournament, continuing a strange relationship with Ireland under Eddie O'Sullivan when he earned the unwanted tag of succeeding Mick Galwey as the most dropped Irish international.

Wild rumours coursed him in France at that time but stories that he had quit the camp were hopelessly wide of the mark; his faultless character would not include such a treasonous streak.

"I admired him big time before becoming an Ireland player," said his former team-mate Tommy Bowe in tribute.

"I think Geordie will have more people than anyone wanting to give their great memories of him.

"He is as skilful as they come on a rugby pitch -- you see him playing week in, week out for Leicester Tigers and they have won everything there is to win.


"He has had some moments of brilliance for Ireland and even though things maybe haven't gone his way, off the pitch he is an absolute legend of a man.

"Back in my days whenever I wasn't getting on the team and the coaches were maybe down on me a little bit, he was one of the first people to tell me to keep my head up.

"He was really influential on me like that, he was a character around the squad for having the craic, but also for having a word with someone that maybe is a little down, for putting an arm around him."

Fittingly, Murphy will forever be the answer to a most welcome pub quiz question, as he was the last player to touch the ball in Ireland's Grand Slam-winning season.

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