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Murphy in tune with life after Munster

'Spring brings changes in its wings, just the cue to lift my soul." Live On, Hermitage Green. When Castres come to town, the memories come flooding back to Barry Murphy. Regrets, too.

There'd be a suitcase full of them too, if he hadn't a mind that mercifully leaned towards the positive.

Not that he seeks an escape from the past. His present is at once a determination to mindfully live every moment, even if he performs a ritual surrounded by so many reminders of his past.

Forced to retire at the cruelly young age of 28, the former Ireland international still spends his days in Munster HQ -- University of Limerick -- conducting his own fitness regime and helping out with his old UL Bohs club side.

He lunches with ex-players, current players, recuperating players. He is with them, but not of them. "Sometimes you'd be frustrated alright, you'd just feel like going out to f**king play and run around, you know?"

Those frustrations would have tugged even more violently were it not for the circumstances which forced him to retire. As he says himself wistfully, "it's not as if I was falling down from this massive height ... "

The terrible irony was that he had too much time to prepare for his retirement. That is not to diminish his appetite to retain as firm a grip as possible on his career as a professional athlete.

But mental strength can only be a willing ally for so long against diminishing physical power.

Save for one full season -- 06/07 -- and a glorious few weeks during Munster's maiden Heineken Cup win, Murphy's prime was ravaged by injury. His last two years were an ultimately self-defeating struggle to stave off the inevitable due to a chronic ankle injury.

Hence, his extraordinary sanguinity when finally presented with the final, savage pin-prick to his waning hopes of recovering the thread of a career that had promised so much, particularly poignant now in this panic-stricken era of facing a life post-BOD in the green 13 jersey.

Instead of wallowing in what had been withdrawn from his life, he focused fully on what he had been offered during his rugby career. And what still is.

"You always hear about it beforehand," he explains. "I remember talking to older Munster players and even when I retired, so many people rang me and said: 'Oh, it's really going to hit you now.' I was told I'd find it really difficult.

"But I haven't had a chance to wallow, to get a break away from it. It hasn't really happened yet. Rugby is still hitting me full on. I've been thrown back into it and I haven't had a chance to look back. I'm trying to be as positive as I can.

"You have moments when you really want to get out there. Unfortunately I can't. But the moment passes. I didn't think I'd enjoy the coaching as much as I am. I'm still in a team environment, able to have a bit of craic with the lads. I'm trying to pass on as much knowledge as I can. But the main thing is about staying positive."

The visit of familiar French foes Castres flood the memory banks of those who recall 'Bambi's' explosion into the national consciousness during that 2005/06 season. The context frames the vitality of his impact.

Munster, still questing their Holy Grail, had lost their opening game to Sale and with it Frankie Sheahan and Alan Quinlan to long-term injury. Their attack was threadbare; in this parish, Tony Ward labelled them a "one-trick pony."

Castres away was win or bust; supporters travelled in droves, as if conscious that Munster needed them as much as they needed Munster.

"They were pissed as farts, the noise was incredible," Murphy smiles in remembrance.

Murphy didn't score, but he was the lightning rod for an unprecedented display of bravura attacking. Ian Dowling had also been thrown off the leash; poignantly the pair's premature retirements would happen just weeks apart.

From there to Sale at home, Seb Chabal being dumped on his backside and an outrageous score from Murphy (http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=EvhjNMPOsOA).

Munster would lift the trophy that season and Murphy can already see parallels this time around -- "we're being written off, waiting for things to click and we've young guys making an impression."

After his exploits, Murphy was called into the Irish squad -- at 23, he had the world at his feet. In Ravenhill, that world collapsed on an early March evening when he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia.

He couldn't hear the disgusting jeers from the terraces over the agonising screaming in his head.

Four Irish caps would eventually accumulate and he would become the sole try-scorer against the All Blacks on their imperious 2008 autumn tour. But Barry Murphy would never be the same player again.

"That's where I would have regrets. Maybe I didn't kick on as much as I could have. Maybe if I'd looked after myself a little better.

"I followed a lot of advice rather than going down my own path say, in getting my legs stronger which is probably what I might have needed. It all happened so quickly for me.

"But sure, I would have liked to win a lot more caps. There's definitely unfinished business. You're always looking for more."

Now, although still immersed in rugby, music is a significantly passionate rival.

Along with his brother Dan and fellow pro Felix Jones, he and band 'Hermitage Green' -- think a gaggle of early Neil Youngs or Mumford & Sons and their extended family -- are carving a decent niche on the Irish music scene.

Formed after an informal jam in his other brother's pub, the Curragower, they have since supported the Stunning and been invited to tour in the UK and Europe.

A busy schedule forces them to rehearse as they gig; yet they have cut 11 mature tracks which are already eminently recordable.

Murphy -- singer, bassist and guitarist -- is naturally as adept with a mic in hand as he was with a rugby ball.

"I can see myself doing this for a long time," he says. "And being involved with rugby for a long time."

His career never really ended, merely found new direction.

For more information see www.facebook.com/hermitagegreen

Irish Independent