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'It would be wonderful for my family, especially my Mam and Dad. That's why you do it'

Aoife Murray is chasing her ninth All-Ireland senior camogie medal on Sunday but the captaincy role makes it a more special occasion.

THE ALL-IRELAND final day experience may not be novel but this one does have a special twist.

There are eight senior medals stacked up in Aoife Murray’s trophy cabinet and away from the September afternoons of triumph, she’s had a few occasions where Cork have departed empty-handed at the close of a long campaign.

Aoife Murray Cork camogie captain Aoife Murray. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sunday is their fifth camogie decider since 2014 but as Cork’s leader and the player who will lift the O’Duffy Cup if they succeed.

“I’d forgotten quite a lot that I was captain because there’s a lot of the girls that have been around for so long,” reflects Murray.

“There’s nobody really looking to the one person to get these magic words of wisdom. Maybe that’s a sign I’m a terrible captain that I’ve actually forgotten a good few times.

“It would be wonderful for my family, especially my Mam and Dad. That’s why you do it.”

Being entrusted with the role of captain was not something she expected. Cork operate under a system of the county champions nominating the senior captain with last year’s club winner Inniscarra opting to propose Cloughduv player Murray.

“Our club hasn’t been competing in too many county finals. Growing up, it was always a dream of mine to captain my club.

“The less county finals we got into, the dream of captaining Cork kind of faded. You just move on and this probably came as a bit of a curveball but one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.”

Goalkeeper Aoife Murray celebrates with the O'Duffy Cup Aoife Murray celebrates with her team-mates after last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It adds another layer of significance to the day for the Murray family. Aoife is Cork’s goalkeeper with her brothers Paudie (manager), Kevin (coach) and Damien (logistics) filling various roles on the sideline.

“It’ll be fine for me and the lads, but not so good for the non-playing members (of the family). I don’t think my sister Gillian has actually seen a second of an All-Ireland final in the past few years, her back has! She looks away! There’s 11 of us. I think they all think of Mam and Dad when it gets to that stage.

“The trick (with the brothers) is probably not to have arguments with them in the lead-up to the game! It’s actually great because if any of the lads ring me it’s to discuss something positive and get my thoughts on it and it’s really great to see grown men so excited about camogie.

“As much as we would like to think it would be women in charge of women’s teams it doesn’t always pan out like that. We have a strong male management panel and to see them so passionate and excited about a camogie All-Ireland it’s probably contagious to be honest.

“Of course it would be special for my family but if anyone was captain my parents would be truly proud.

“It ends up being such a small group of players that my parents would often hug someone else before they’d come to me and it’s vice versa with someone else’s parents. That’s just lovely. I know if we win my parents will be so proud of Briege for example.”

Murray resisted the temptation to bow out on a successful note last September. This is her 17th season. She lives and works in Dublin yet still manages to fulfil the demands required to perform at the elite level of camogie.

An emotional Aoife Murray at the final whistle An emotional Aoife Murray at the final whistle after the 2014 final victory over Kilkenny. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I was chatting to someone recently about this, nobody ever goes in to get numbers. Nobody ever says, ‘I want to get nine All-Irelands and then I’m going to retire.’

“That’s ridiculous but for me, every year you get a little bit older and different responsibilities happen in your private life or your professional life and it makes the effort more of a break which is an odd way of putting it but it is more of a break than a hindrance or an extra pressure.

“Just being able to get into my car on a Tuesday and head down, have total escapism for an hour and a half. And then to come back up and face into work, the pressures of work are far greater than the pressures of sport.

“Sport won’t pay my mortgage but work does. I’m going to be 35 on Saturday so it’s a bit mad to think that I’m still playing because women normally retire a little bit earlier.

“But I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t enjoying it and there’s always a new challenge ever year and the question is ‘am I able for it, am I up for it?’

“It’s great to be able to train.”

As an experienced player, she’s been able to observe changes in the sport. Last year’s decider was a notably low-scoring affair but Cork have been posting major totals this summer – 0-19 v Wexford, 4-15 v Dublin, 1-27 v Tipperary, 3-21 v Meath, 6-18 v Offaly and 0-21 v Tipperary.

“It’s just the way we’re being coached, we have two forwards coaching us and their attitude is about enjoying the sport and training you that ‘if the score is on take it!’

“It’s been that way this summer because we haven’t played against 10 in defence. We’re going to come up in the final against a team that probably will have a blanket defence, they catch you on the counter and bang a goal in.

“Will we be banging 20+ points over the bar? I’d be very surprised if that happened because you can only play what’s in front of you. What the guys allowed us to do was to be freer to enjoy the hurling side of the sport and to have a go and if it does go wide you got yourselves into a position to shoot.”

Last year’s triumph for Cork was labelled in some quarters as fortunate after a game that was settled by Julia White shooting over a match-winning score.

Aoife Murray lifts the trophy Aoife Murray lifts the O'Duffy Cup after last September's final victory. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“A lot of people have come to us and said that Kilkenny lost that game which was quite an insult because we were the ones that were going for it towards the end of that game,” says Murray.

“That doesn’t really upset us, people say those things and often that’s maybe the only game they’ve gone to all year. They’re an expert then.

“We came back out, we had a lot of work [to do]. We knew were down two All-Stars and last year’s Player of The Year.

“And for us to work our way back to a final, whether we win or lose, as long as we go and give 100% effort, I don’t think we can do a whole lot more.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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