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'It was very special to climb those steps, my Dad being wheeled into the dressing-room as well'

Multiple All-Ireland winner Aoife Murray on retirement life during Covid-19 crisis and reflections on her Cork career.

Aoife Murray after Cork's All-Ireland camogie winning success in 2018.
Aoife Murray after Cork's All-Ireland camogie winning success in 2018.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Apr 25th 2020, 9:33 PM

FOR THE RETIRED sportsperson, there comes a pressing issue in the aftermath.

The removal of that established routine creates a void. For those that have been embedded in a team setup, there is the challenge of seeing that collective continue playing.

How do you adjust to now watching on from the sidelines having been accustomed to a role in the heat of the action?

Aoife Murray was bracing herself for having a different sporting perspective in 2020. She brought the curtain down on a decorated camogie career this spring. The custodian of the Cork goal at various levels for 18 seasons, she departed with a substantial collection of silver in the shape of nine All-Ireland senior medals.

After severing the links as a player, the transition to a supporter was planned to take place. She didn’t manage to take in their opening couple of league games and then the Cork camogie squad found their schedule ripped up in early March like every other sporting organisation around the globe.

The wait to observe her former team-mates playing seems set to be prolonged as the impact of Covid-19 continues.

“I don’t know is it helping me a bit better or is it giving me too much time to think about it? I suppose because we’re all not doing it, it’s better but chatting to a few girls there, I was saying to someone maybe I shouldn’t have retired because it’d be a grand, short season.

“But equally with my line of work, I don’t know if it would have been manageable to be ready for inter-county action. It’s hard enough to try and get myself to be fit for club.

“I wasn’t consciously not going (earlier in the year) but I still feel emotionally connected to the Cork jersey and especially when I’ve family involved with the management. I know the moment when I go it’s going to be really hard and I know I’m going to question myself whether I’ve done the right or wrong thing.

“I think I will really miss just getting to the hotel that morning and that’s the bit I’m going to probably miss the most more so than the game itself. Not knowing the details of the day and not getting into the structure of the match day.

“But I know I’ve done the right by the team which always trumps the individual. That’s how my attitude has always been. So I’m hoping, maybe foolishly, that will help me when I do go to that first game.”

aoife-murray Aoife Murray's last appearance with Cork was against Galway in last year's All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

When that will be is anyone’s guess as the suspension of camogie continues. Work in property investment in Colliers International in Dublin continues, albeit with the change of being based remotely, keeps Murray busy and she’s hoping there will be a resumption of club games with Cloughduv at some stage.

The uncertainty facing county players currently is not a scenario she envies.

“We’ve all been there when a game is cancelled on the day of the game or maybe the night before and you’ve got all this emotional build-up to it and then there’s the downer after it. It’s really hard to build yourself back up. So now this is like the longest cancellation ever.

“Particularly I think if you play an individual sport, this time might be a bit easier for you because you’re used to that isolation and working on your own. Whereas when you come from a team environment, particularly GAA where you’re part of a panel of 30 plus, you end up getting a lot of energy from your team-mates, not having that it must be really hard and also not knowing when you’re going to get it back. What are you training for? That’s always the big thing.”

aoife-murray-and-niamh-mccarthy-celebrates Aoife Murray celebrating with Cork team-mates after the 2018 All-Ireland camogie final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The shutdown of activity affords an opportunity to reflect on a career framed by its longevity and characterised by shining moments of success.

For all those days when Cork triumphed from Murray first grasping the O’Duffy Cup in 2002 to the most recent victory in 2018, the occasions of disappointment have not faded from memory either.

“It’s funny I think I remember more the ones I lost better. I’ve never really watched back the ones that we won, only the highlights that you might come across on TV. I always think we failed to a certain extent a couple of years because we had the talent but just maybe things didn’t go right for us. There’s nothing worse than thinking you could have won.

“We were involved in so many (bids for three-in-a-row). That to me is probably the biggest disappointment. I don’t know the answer to it. I don’t think it was ever complacency because we ask an awful lot of ourselves. I’d like to think I could have walked away making a greater contribution to Cork camogie.”

Still there were a lot of high points, campaigns rounded off on a joyous note. It is the first taste of success on the national stage with Cork that remains a standout.

“When I think of All-Irelands, it’s so funny the minor of 1998 really jumps out in my mind. It was playing in Ballincollig, local enough to us at home, against Derry and it was 12-a-side at that time. That stands out massively to me because it was the start of it really.

“Even the following year beating Galway in Ardrahan by a point. When I think of that group we went onto win junior, intermediate and at least play together for about 10 or 12 years (at senior). You wonder why Cork are successful, it’s because you sometimes get a hold of those group of players.”

The prowess of the group surfaced again two years ago.

Cork prevailed by a single point against Kilkenny to retain their All-Ireland crown.

There was a layer of significance for the Cork goalkeeper in captaining the team and the family dimension to the day with three of her brothers (manager), Kevin (coach) and Damien (logistics) filling various roles on the sideline.

aoife-murray-with-paudie-murray Aoife Murray with her brother Paudie at the 2017 camogie All-Star awards. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was obviously extremely special. There was a huge group of leaders in the dressing-room so I was lucky to identify that people didn’t need to hear my voice. The likes of Laura Treacy, Orla Cronin, Amy O’Connor, these girls were all beginning to want to get involved in that leadership. I was really proud to be captain of that type of player.

“It was very special to climb those steps, my Dad being wheeled into the dressing-room after as well. Have the lads involved and stuff like that. I always wanted to captain Cork but I’d kind of given up on the dream to be honest quite a long time ago. So when it came around it was quite a surprise.”

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The game moved on over the course of Murray’s career, the scale of change particularly noticeable to her in the demands placed on goalkeepers.

She thinks back to 1999 and John Cronin’s coaching guidance as she became the sub goalkeeper for the junior team. That was the start of being involved in setups where she could learn the expectations required. The foresight and innovation of Cork coaches down through the years aided her development.

“I was very lucky because I loved it. I got to do a lot of work with Ger Cunningham at a young age, that helped me massively. The tips that Kevin would have given me from the Cork senior sessions as well, telling me what Donal Óg was doing, his preparation. It really opened my eyes at a very young age. You weren’t just there to hit the ball long.

“Then I would have done training sessions with Davy Fitz, I would have done a training session with anybody who would have helped me. Being in Dublin I’ve been very fortunate. Declan Powell from St Brigid’s, he took me under his wing, did all the unseen work that he’d never get credit for.

“Niall Corcoran helped me out for a year here, more recently Mattie Collins (Kilmacud Crokes goalkeeper), who trained me half six in the morning once a week. Not many people would do that for you. Then Teddy O’Donovan, he’s had the hardship of training me down in Cork for the last six, seven years. He’s been such a great help to Cork camogie. I’m lucky that I’ve always had coaches who wanted more. They’ve been great to work with.”

niall-corcoran Laois hurling coach Niall Corcoran Source: James Crombie/INPHO

And in a wider sense she views camogie as a sport in a healthy place boosted by the improvements in coaching, strength and conditioning, and the technological advances to assist in the preparation of teams.

“What I like about where camogie is the players are expecting a lot more. It’s justified, you’re seeing the performances are increasing the competitiveness. What I would love to see is more competition. It can’t always just be Cork, Kilkenny and Galway in the semi-finals, and then for one team to triumph by getting to the semi-finals.

“The positive is that the likes of Waterford and Tipperary are expecting to get to there now. You’d love to see other counties who have always had strong players that they can make the step up.”

There’s no camogie games on the horizon for now.

But when they return and Cork teams line out again, there’ll be a new supporter set to watch on.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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