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16 years, 8 All-Irelands and 7 All-Stars, but this one's different for Cork's number one

Aoife Murray has been rewarded for her remarkable efforts with a place on the first-ever camogie All-Star tour.

AOIFE MURRAY’S 16TH year wearing the Cork jersey between the posts drew to a close on a high in Croke Park in September.

Aoife Murray lifts the O'Duffy cup Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

She followed Rena Buckley up the steps of the Hogan Stand and got her hands on the O’Duffy Cup, the All-Ireland senior camogie title, for the eighth time.

This one was special, not that the others weren’t, but you got the sense from this Cork group that this meant the world to them. The previous year, Kilkenny had called a halt to their bid for three in-a-row and here they were, 12 months later, back on top.

Fast forward a few weeks and 11 Cork nominees are gathered around round tables at the All-Star banquet in the Citywest Hotel.

The goalkeeper position is a highly competitive one. Dublin’s star of the summer Faye McCarthy and Emma Kavanagh, who had a stellar year in black and amber, feature alongside Murray on the shortlist.

The Soaring Stars are announced, followed by Players of the Year across all three grades. Then there’s the Manager of the Year, music and entertainment, and other formalities.

The Cork camp are in great form. Rena has been named Player of the Year; Paudie, who’s Murray’s brother, scooped the manager accolade; and four Soaring Star awards are headed Leeside.

Onto the 2017 All-Star team now though and first up, it’s Murray’s moment.

If you’ve ever met her, you’ll be well aware of her glowing personality, and above all her modesty. She doesn’t like a fuss.

“And the 2017 All-Star winning goalkeeper is….. (or something along those lines),” echoes around the room.

“Aoife Murray!”

The Cork cheers can probably be heard in the reception area of the hotel, and rightly so. This is her seventh All-Star. There’s something a little different about this one though.

For their efforts, the winners have been rewarded with a trip to Madrid, something that’s never been done in camogie before.

Aoife Murray with Paudie Murray Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

All-Star tours are a regular in GAA and ladies football, but history will be written next week as the 2016 and 2017 camogie All-Star winners, as well as several nominees, hit the Spanish capital for an exhibition match.

After 16 years of unbroken inter-county service, did she ever imagine this would happen?

“I suppose you’ve been looking at the Ladies footballers and you see them going off on trips, and because it hasn’t happened, you just take it for granted that it’s not,” she grins, at the launch in Croke Park earlier in the week.

“It’s something that I never really gave a massive amount of thought to. But I’m delighted I’m going and I’m really, really looking forward to it.”

Other players undoubtedly may moan about how it hasn’t happened before now, but not Murray. And there’s that modesty. As mentioned, she’s not a fan of too much fuss. Keep the head down and drive on.

She continues on about how it’s a big step for camogie, and how she’s looking forward to having a ‘bit of fun’, socialising with the other counties’ representatives.

“When I started — I’ll be showing my age now — if you were the travelling team (playing a match), you always got put up for a meal afterwards with the home team,” she smiles.

“Back then you could have had a sneaky drink without the management seeing you. You probably got to know them better back then than you do now, so I think it’s great that we get a chance to actually mix with people that we’re normally beating the crap out of each other in the summer months.”

Thirty-four now, she looks back fondly on when she started out on the inter-county scene and the years prior to that.

Her childhood was one typical to those who grow up in GAA, or sporting families. She’s the youngest of 11 so it was pretty much, ‘There’s a game on, you’re going, end of story.’

And she loved it.

“I just followed my brothers and sisters, to be honest,” she laughs.

Aoife Murray Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’re from West Cork, which is all football, so I wouldn’t have known a whole lot about camogie. I certainly wouldn’t have known that you could be playing in Croke Park.

“I’d say I was about 10 or 11 (when she started playing), so I just followed my traditional Irish family. I followed my brothers and sisters, and whatever they did, I wanted to do.”

Trawling through the memories, one specific Saturday morning springs to mind. Herself and her siblings, she says, wouldn’t have watched a huge amount of TV but they were allowed on this occasion.

Flicking through the channels, she came across something about Kilkenny camogie and an interview with the two Downey sisters, Ann and Angela.

“I remember just my jaw dropping going, ‘You can actually do this.’ Seeing the two sisters, and thinking of my own sisters, and I started playing club with them so that was the first time that I actually realised that I could do it.”

And so began the long list of people she looked up to in the game: “Obviously back then you had the likes of Lynn Dunlea, Linda Mellerick, Denise Cronin, Fiona O’Driscoll.

“In Cork, I wasn’t short of people to look up to, and I got to be on the same panel as them in 2002, so I was probably that kid with the jaw dragging along the ground to training! Absolute heroes of mine were now my team-mates.”

Her brother Kevin, of course, went on to play for Cork and won an All-Ireland with them in 1999. Murray looked to him for inspiration at different stages in her younger years, and learned from his contacts too.

“I remember being seven or eight and Kevin was on the minor team. I think they lost a minor final, and he scored a goal that day. I thought that was pretty cool. I was watching it on TV, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Kev! That’s the guy who ties up my hair!’

“I was very lucky, because then he’d always bring back tips to me from the likes of Ger Cunningham, then the likes of Donal Óg [Cusack]. I used to be bugging him about, ‘What did they do at training today?’

“Simple things like telling them they always have such and such things in their bowls, and I was like ‘God, that makes sense.’

Goalkeeper Aoife Murray urges her team on Source: INPHO

“Then obviously seeing him in ’99. I watched it on a little portable TV, where I couldn’t see the score at the time. My mother was wrecking my head!

“He’d come through horrendous injuries, and we’d obviously lived with him through those injuries, so to see him actually back and getting that medal was a very proud moment and it inspired me as well.”

Then there was Declan Powell of the St Brigid’s club in Dublin, who she credits as the one reason why she plays for Cork. “Only for Declan, I certainly wouldn’t be playing,” she admits.

The individual sessions with himself — and Niall Corcoran this year — while she lives in the capital, the ear to listen to her worries, the friendship. It all helps.

She’s asked about the commute to Cork, and smiles that she doesn’t know any different.

“But I still complain to anyone who listens,” she jokes. “Ah listen, I’m used to it and I don’t really take a huge amount of notice.

“Well I do when eFlow send me the bill and that’s when I go, ‘Jesus Christ, I’ve got to find something better to do,’ but I’m used to it now.

“When we win, it’s grand. This time last year I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ so winning obviously takes the burden off it a little.”

She doesn’t shy away from the big question. What about next year? She knows there’s a decision to be made on her inter-county future, but it’s not made yet. And won’t be for another while.

For now, she’s enjoying the break ‘probably too much’, she grins. And the memories of September glory are keeping her in good spirits.

Maybe we could quickly revisit the year before we finish up?

“It’s funny, we had a bit of a thing there on Saturday night and people kept on saying what a great year it was,” she says, when asked to reflect on 2017.

“Look, there was six minutes of a difference between a great year and a very disappointing year. Literally, two points was the difference in a disastrous year to what people are saying was a great year.

Aoife Murray clears the sliotar despite Miriam Walsh Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I suppose it’s great and look, to be honest, we all felt that we’d all tried our best. If it hadn’t have happened, it hadn’t have happened, but at least we had a little bit of pride in ourselves walking off the pitch.”

And those six minutes or so. Trailing, there was one woman they could count on. Gemma O’Connor stepped up when Cork needed her the most and hit a monster score to pull the Rebels level.

And then it was substitute Julia White who raised the deciding white flag in the seventh minute of stoppage time to seal the win.

All the while, Murray says that she was at ease between the posts.

“Ask any of the umpires and they’ll probably say it’s a very odd thing. But it was because I think we were all trying our best.

“It was probably one of the first games that I’ve had that I never really looked at the sideline, I don’t think any of my teammates were looking to the sideline for any instructions or help or, ‘What do I do?’ We all felt quite in control of what was happening.

“Maybe that’s why we had the calmness to take the last two opportunities, we felt like we had given 100%. We hadn’t done that the year before and that was the big driver for us.

“I was actually quite calm which was a bit of an odd thing.”

And the future of the game? Attendance, sponsorship, interest are all up. All-Star tours and further talk around these things are only going to continue the growth, she agrees.

“Hopefully what you might see in five, six years time is that we’re no longer talking about 20,000 at a final, we’re talking about 30,000 plus, and also hopefully you’re looking at other counties like Clare and Offaly, and all these other counties, that hopefully they’ll see a resurgence as well.

Aoife Murray and Niamh Hanniffy Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“That’s the most important thing for me,” she concludes.

“Yeah, I’d love to have an 80,000 [final], but I’d much prefer to see clubs inundated with young girls and young boys coming along.

“I think that’s what I hope anyway from the increased promotion, and all the social media side of things, that that’s what you’ll actually see. Participation. Because up against so many other sports, that’s the big thing for me.”

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