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'Her influence goes beyond just being physically phenomenal'

Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe has been a star in 7s and is now shining for Ireland 15s.

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DURING THOSE LOCKDOWN times when team training wasn’t allowed, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe would head over to the club grounds at Railway Union to get her fitness and speed work done.

Oftentimes, groundskeeper David Cunningham was the only other person there, doing all the important little jobs that kept the place in good nick for the return of rugby. One of the many unsung heroes.

He’d always work away from Murphy Crowe when he was out cutting the grass, making sure not to disturb the Ireland star’s sessions in the slightest. 

As soon as Murphy Crowe return to training at the IRFU’s high performance centre when the restrictions eased, Cunningham presumed that was the end of it but out of the blue arrived a box of chocolates and a handwritten thank you card from the Tipperary woman, who wanted him to know how much she appreciated being accommodated.

The classy touch meant a great deal to Cunningham and it’s a small insight into why Murphy Crowe is appreciated so greatly by all those who have played with or coached her. They’ll tell you she is selfless, humble, and a positive influence.

They also appreciate her because she is brilliant on the pitch.

Three tries in four Tests so far for the Ireland 15s team have underlined how dangerous Murphy Crowe is on the wing and she will be a key figure again today as Adam Griggs’ side take on Scotland in a crucial World Cup Qualifier. 

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Murphy Crowe comes from a GAA background in Tipperary, where her father, Brendan, is a proud Arravale Rovers man. 

Amee-Leigh’s initial sporting interest was in athletics as she excelled at the 100 metres and long jump under the coaching of Breeda Christie at Tipperary Town athletics club but by the time she was 15, she was hankering for team sport. 

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Murphy Crowe wasn’t sure she had the kicking skill for football so instead linked up with the U16 team in Clanwilliam rugby club, who have also produced Johnny Lacey, Alan Quinlan, and Tommy O’Donnell.

“She was a phenomenon from the start,” says Pádraig Culbert, who coached Murphy Crowe in Clanwilliam.

“A lot of girls who start rugby or other sports late, their motor skills might not be as refined but Amee-Leigh had done athletics and came to us as a really accomplished sprinter. She had a very efficient style and was extremely fast.

“If she got the ball in games in training, she scored. That was it. I remember one girl missing a tackle on her because she was too fast and in frustration she said, ‘Paudie – which was my nickname – how do we stop her?’

aimee-leigh-murphy-crowe Murphy Crowe on her senior Munster debut in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“She thought that as a coach I was going to show her some amazing technique to stop Amee-Leigh but I said, ‘There’s only one way – a rifle!’”

Murphy Crowe’s speed and evasion skills are the obvious strengths in her game to this day but she is a determined, decisive defender too and that was also clear from the beginning in Clanwilliam.

“Lots of girls were fast or great with ball-in-hand but they weren’t as good defensively,” says Culbert, who worked with female teams at the club for 12 years and also coached the Munster U18s.

“Amee-Leigh had the insatiable desire to get to the tryline but equally, if someone on the opposition made a break and it seemed they couldn’t be stopped, she had that belief she could get them. 

“She was passionate about scoring and passionate about stopping the other team from scoring.”

Things took off quickly for Murphy Crowe. In 2012, she played for the Munster U18s and by the following year she had been capped by an Ireland U19 side and was already attending training camps with the senior Ireland 7s team.

She finished 2013 off with her first senior Munster 15s cap at Thomond Park and then made her full Ireland 7s debut on the World Series in China when she was still just 18.

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Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe has been a superstar on the 7s Series for years now, with 98 tries in her 131 games making her Ireland’s most prolific try-scorer and most capped player.

She’s ninth in the sport’s all-time try-scoring list. The first woman not from New Zealand or Australia to be the top try-scorer in a season on the Series, Murphy Crowe was named in the World Rugby Dream Team in 2019.

Her list of honours also includes Rugby Players Ireland’s Women’s 7s Player of the Year awards in 2016, 2017, and 2019. 

A move to Dublin to take up a full-time 7s contract with the IRFU meant aligning herself to a new club and though Murphy Crowe has had very limited opportunity to even train with Railway Union in recent years, they are very proud of her achievements.

amee-leigh-murphy-crowe-scores-a-try Murphy Crowe has been a sensation on the 7s Series. Source: John Cowpland/INPHO

“Leigh is consistently world-class on the World Series,” says the club’s head coach and director of rugby, John Cronin.

“The resilience and motivation to keep doing it and doing it are massive.”

Though he has had limited chances to coach her, Cronin has been blown away by Murphy Crowe’s diligence and work ethic. The Railway Union coaching staff grade players from 1 to 7 on their ‘coachability’ and Murphy Crowe is the only one who has hit 7.

“She’s the most coachable athlete I have ever worked with,” says Cronin, echoing what Culbert found in Clanwilliam.

“She’s humble, disciplined, she seeks feedback constantly. Sometimes what you find with players is that once they start achieving, when they go to Ireland, they become a little bit uncoachable and start to believe their hype. Leigh is the complete opposite. She’s a great player but she’s so committed to her personal development.”

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As Murphy Crowe was running tries in for fun on the 7s circuit, those involved in 15s looked on with envy, imagining just how much damage the Tipperary woman could do in their code.

The IRFU’s women’s rugby programme sees players regularly switch between 7s and 15s, meaning it was only really a matter of time. 7s essentially shut down during the pandemic and Murphy Crowe began training with the 15s last year, leading towards her debut against France in the Six Nations back in April.

A week later, Murphy Crowe started on the right wing against Italy and scored two tries – an outstanding first effort through traffic off a lineout and a second in which she showed her searing pace to finish from a turnover.

Having had a try disallowed during the defeat to Spain two weeks ago at the World Cup Qualifier tournament in Italy, Murphy Crowe was able to grab her third Test score in last weekend’s win over the Italians.

Simply getting the ball into the hands of Murphy Crowe and the brilliant Beibhinn Parsons seems like a sensible game plan for today against Scotland, and Ireland head coach Griggs is keen to see plenty of his lethal wing duo.

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He says Murphy Crowe is still on a “learning curve” in 15s and hopes to see both of the Ireland speedsters getting off their wings to be more involved.

“We’re working on it and the prime example was the disallowed try versus Spain, where Amee worked off her wing, got on the shoulder of Stacey [Flood, Ireland's out-half].

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“That’s a sign of where she’s really improving her understanding of the game and hopefully we can see more of it.”

Ireland captain Ciara Griffin, meanwhile, calls Murphy Crowe a “pure team player” and praises her ability to integrate into the 15s squad after transitioning from 7s.

“She is just so down to earth and has moulded into this team so seamlessly,” says Griffin. “She’s quite a bubbly character and it’s great to see that on these trips, see people’s character.”

That ability to gel with team-mates and bring out the best of them is a strength for with Murphy Crowe.

“Her influence goes beyond just being physically phenomenal,” says Cronin. “In order to be a good player, you have to affect others in the team and have a positive influence. Leigh makes others better.”

In Parsons and Murphy Crowe, Ireland have two of the most dangerous players in the sport and they could have a key influence again today in Parma.

Murphy Crowe will be looking to add to her try-scoring record as everyone else tries to keep up.

“Hopefully, I’ll catch her at some point,” says Griffin with a laugh. “We’ll do our best!”

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Back home in Tipperary, they will be watching on with as much pride as ever.

Culbert runs a Tipperary Town page on Facebook and says that posts about Murphy Crowe invariable draw hundreds and hundreds of likes and comments wishing her well.

“People locally are really relishing her success,” he says, while joking that he’d love to see Murphy Crowe dive when finishing her tries for better photographs.

She’s still a very familiar face around Clanwilliam and a major inspiration for those who hope to follow in her footsteps.

“When Amee-Leigh went professional, I was still coaching and I said to the girls, ‘If someone ever tells you you’re not good enough or that there’s a ceiling or girls aren’t as good, I can tell you that I never thought that a girl just like ye would end up playing rugby for a living. Amee-Leigh is a professional rugby player, it’s her job.’

“It’s inspirational. She’s a figurehead now for girls in any sport that they take up. You can succeed if you go about it the way Amee-Leigh went about it which is focus, dedication, and determination.”

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Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey look ahead to the inaugural United Rugby Championship, and a massive weekend for Ireland in their bid to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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