Saturday 20 January 2018

Murphy – Munster man playing for America

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Sitting in a classroom on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, having just been left out of the Ireland U-19s squad, it suddenly dawned on Liam Og Murphy that he may be eligible to play for the USA.

Murphy, who was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Ennis, always considered himself to be Irish, but has been making huge strides with the American national team in the last few months .

"It's actually a funny story about how I came to playing for America. I was sitting in a free class after I had just been told I didn't make the Irish U-19s squad. I joked to my friend that I could play with USA if Ireland didn't want me – not actually realising that I could," he revealed.

"I started browsing the internet, looking for eligibility rules. I got in touch with the American U-19s coach and it took off from there."

Murphy (pictured right) won a Munster schools senior cup medal with St Munchin's College in 2006 and played alongside Irish Lions Keith Earls and Conor Murray. Predominantly a blindside flanker, he went on to represent the USA at the U-19s World Cup in Belfast in 2007.

"We managed to qualify for the U-20s World Cup on the back of a successful U-19 campaign, which was huge for the country. Results didn't go our way, but it was an important learning curve."

The former Young Munster player spent a full pre-season with Munster in 2011, the same year he represented the Irish club side. A few days after he was named to start in a pre-season friendly with Munster, injury ruled him out.

An injury-hit year saw rugby take a back seat, at which point he moved to Boston to take up a sales position.

"I moved to Boston last year, but not with the intention of playing rugby. I was solely concentrating on my job and making a living.

"In fact, my fitness levels were so poor that I actually declined an offer to join up with the USA training camp."

It was only six months ago that Murphy decided to reignite his dream of playing professional rugby.

"My rugby aspirations have changed massively since January. When it didn't work out for me at Munster, I've always wanted to prove to myself I can play at the top level. At the moment, I'm essentially doing what I did with Munster, but working a nine-to-five job as well. I train on my own and that can be very tough mentally."

Murphy replaced fellow Irish-born player John Quill for his first cap against Canada two weeks ago – a moment which Murphy says was surreal.

"There was a nervousness that I wouldn't get on after everyone back home wishing me well. Funnily enough, I replaced Quilly with 20 minutes left. It was a surreal moment."

Ireland play the United States this Saturday with both Murphy and Quill hoping to be involved. Rugby is still an emerging sport in the US, but with the Ireland game due to be shown on live American television, there is a great sense of excitement around the camp.

"It's a big opportunity for us. Ireland's biggest mistake will be not taking us seriously. We have players who are more than capable of playing at their level.

"They'd be naive to underestimate us. It'll be a sell-out home crowd in Texas, which should make for a great occasion."

USA play four games in the next three weeks and, with a World Cup just around the corner, Murphy is fully aware of where his loyalties now lie.

"It's hard to explain how it feels to sing the American national anthem. My mother is an American through and through, so it's a huge honour for her as well," he said.

"At the end of the day, USA gave me the chance and I'm privileged to represent them."

Irish Independent

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