Friday 22 February 2019

Electric Murphy Crowe chasing Olympic dream after changing lanes

Murphy Crowe in action for Ireland against Fiji in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Glendale, Colorado. Photo: IRFU
Murphy Crowe in action for Ireland against Fiji in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Glendale, Colorado. Photo: IRFU
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In another world, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe's Olympic dream would still very much be focused on the track rather than a pitch with a rugby ball in her hands.

In her younger days, as a formidable sprinter and long-jumper, Murphy Crowe was always fixated by the prospect of wearing an Irish singlet on the world stage.

It wasn't until she was 15, when her local rugby club in Tipperary started a women's team that her head was turned by the oval ball.

The oldest of five kids, growing up in Lattin, a small village beside Clanwilliam (home of former Ireland international Alan Quinlan), if you had told Murphy Crowe that she would become a household name and a genuine star on the World Sevens Series, the chances are she wouldn't have believed you.

Yet her she is now, as a 23-year old, who is one of the most lethal finishers on the circuit as her devastating speed regularly sees her top the try-scoring charts against the world's best nations and players.

Staggering

In her 29 caps (90 games as caps are won per tournament) to date, 19 of which were won on the World Series, Murphy Crowe has scored a staggering 58 tries, making her Ireland's most prolific sevens player ever.

"I take great pride in that because a lot of those tries were hard work from the girls," she tells the Irish Independent.

"They work so bloody hard and it's just me finishing off some of that. It's not just a try for me, it's a whole team try but I do take great pride in it because I want to work for this team and that's my strength - my speed. If there is open space, I want to take it and get the best result."

So much of Ireland's game-plan is based around getting Murphy Crowe into open space, because her pace is so electric.

It sounds simple, but her seriously impressive try-scoring rate has made her a marked woman, which means that opposition teams are paying particular attention to her.

"It's harder to find that space now," Murphy Crowe admits. "I've added something else to my game in looking for offloads because the defenders might not stay on me.

"The girls work so hard to create the space on the outside. They work really hard to get me into space to use my speed to get to the line.

"The girls know my strengths and I know that they want me to back myself. When I'm there, I'll always try my very best to at least get a line break or a good carry."

The sevens circuit brings Ireland to some glamorous, far-flung places and while the players are living the dream, it's all about working towards the common goal of Tokyo 2020.

Had Murphy Crowe kept up sprinting, who knows, maybe she could be in line to compete in Japan in a different guise, but athletics' loss is certainly rugby's gain.

"I did athletics until I was 15 - 100 metres and long jump," she recalls. "I went to the All-Irelands but never really placed or anything. But it does stand to me today.

"When I started rugby, I was the first person in my family to play. There used to be a girls team with Clanwilliam. It stopped for maybe six or seven years but they are starting it back up again, which is good because the growth is getting bigger and bigger now.

"Munster trials came up so I went for them. They were U-19s. I was one year with them, playing on the wing.

"I didn't watch rugby when I was younger, but because I played with Clan I got used to it. I learned the rules through trial and error.

"Then I went for U-18s sevens trials. That was the following June. We went to a tournament in Sheffield with Stan (McDowell, Ireland sevens assistant coach).

"On the Monday or Tuesday, a few of us got phone calls to come into the senior squad. The programme became centralised the next year so we moved to Dublin in 2014. That was when I got my first cap."

While plenty of coaches would have loved Murphy Crowe to focus her attention on the larger code, as soon as she turned her hand to sevens, that's where her future lay.

"I am definitely more suited to sevens - there's more space, it's a faster game and you have to be fitter," she insists.

"Because I played on the wing with Munster, getting a Six Nations cap would have crossed my mind but my focus was on the sevens.

"Back then it was the Rio Olympics. We were aiming to go to that and it didn't really bother me that I didn't play Six Nations. There were a lot of players. The pool base is huge so I didn't think I would have a chance, so my primary focus was sevens."

Murphy Crowe shares a house with fellow internationals Katie Fitzhenry, Aoife Doyle, Lucy Mulhall, while Connacht flyer Jordan Conroy recently became the latest recruit.

"We'd watch something like the Kardashians in the evening, Jordan doesn't mind, he likes playing his PlayStation," she laughs.

Transferring her sprinting skills to the rugby pitch has proven to be seamless, but it helps too when you are born with such speed as well as a naturally fluid running style.

"Apart from holding the ball and some slightly different movements, I would run the same," she explains.

"We do speed work with the coaches - working on different techniques, acceleration and agility work. Because I was so young when I started running, it was a habit. It's how I run. It's not like I had to learn a technique when I was 18 or 20.

"When you start any sport at a younger age, it's just so much easier to keep on improving. You only have to use little tweaks here and there."

Next up for Ireland is the Sydney Sevens this weekend before they attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the summer.

"When I was doing athletics, the Olympics was always the dream," Murphy Crowe adds.

"I didn't watch rugby when I was growing up, but I always watched the Olympics, the Diamond League, the European Championships, the World Championships.

"We're definitely heading in the right direction. There are younger girls who are coming into our programme now and are competing for places. It just shows the standards that are being set.

"At the back of all of our minds now is Tokyo 2020 - that would be my absolute dream."

Irish Independent

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