blood and bandage

'I just thanked them for giving me such a day' - Cork's medicine man still full of rebel roar

The legendary Dr Con Murphy speaks to The42 ahead of the Munster SFC final between Cork and Tipperary.

THE LEGENDARY DR Con Murphy pauses for a moment when he’s asked about his routine for Munster final week.

inpho_01577131 James Crombie / INPHO Dr Con Murphy [file photo]. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Son to an All-Ireland winner with Cork, Murphy has been attending hurling and football matches all his life. Picking up a few pre-final rituals along the way would be a natural leap for him.

There was little expected of the Cork footballers coming into this year’s championship. Facing Kerry in a straight knock-out Munster semi-final suggested an early exit for Ronan McCarthy’s side.

The Kingdom would be considered the people’s choice as Dublin’s All-Ireland crown. A safe passage through the Munster stage of the championship was all but assured, with one eye on capturing the Sam Maguire.

But on a very wet Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, they were stunned by a resilient Cork outfit who struck the fatal blow with a Mark Keane goal in the last breath of the game.

Murphy is now back on the familiar road to another Munster final.

“Would you believe, I go out to my father’s grave and say hello,” Murphy tells The42 about his plans for the days leading up to the Munster final.

“And my Mum and my sister, who are buried in the same place.

“I’ll wait until Sunday morning and go out to him. I just like to say hello to him.”

Murphy’s father ‘Weesh’ represented the Cork footballers for 10 years between the 1940s and 50s, and picked up an All-Ireland medal in 1945.

His son has kept the Murphy name at the heart of Cork GAA circles, and continues to leave his own imprint on the Rebel cause. 

Since coming on board as the team physician for the Cork footballers and hurlers in 1976, he’s become known simply as Dr Con. Their very own medical marvel.

His name is regularly checked by others when honouring his contribution to Cork teams. Even this week, Cork midfielder Ian Maguire gave him a mention when listing the people that came to his mind at the final whistle of that famous win over Kerry.

Murphy was raised on Cork v Kerry clashes. They’ve been a staple of his life, almost like a food group to him. Aidan Kelleher is the main team doctor for the football team now, but Murphy is still involved, working as an assistant on the sidelines.

And he wanted to address the players on the pitch after that Kerry game. It was a touching moment that was captured live on the Sunday Game cameras, as the biblical rain lifted for a while to let the Cork players celebrate their first championship win over the Kingdom in eight years.

“I said to the team, ‘I haven’t missed a Cork v Kerry game since 1956.’

“My Dad brought me as a small boy. And I don’t think I’ve got a better kick out of winning than the last day.

I just thanked them for giving me such a day. I didn’t think I’d get it again. It was a great thrill.”

“There were no mobile phones starting off but I don’t think I ever got more messages on my mobile phone than on Sunday night. There was great excitement, unbelievable.

“I mean we got lucky in the end but there’s been days against Kerry when we got very unlucky so these things balance out.”

Many people compared Keane’s last-minute goal to the one scored by Tadhg Murphy in the 1983 Munster final under similar circumstances against the same rivals.

Murphy also had a front row view of that incredible moment 37 years ago. Some of the current crop from the Cork squad apparently didn’t know about that game when it came up in the aftermath of their win, but Murphy wasn’t surprised to hear that.

“Sure hardly any of them were born in ’83,” he laughs.

“I was there in ’83 and the thing about it was that so much rain fell in Cork that day that a lot of people thought the game wouldn’t be played, but it went ahead.

“What was strange about it was it was coming straight on the back of the Offaly goal in ’82 [All-Ireland final] so it was a double whammy for Kerry.”

Dr Murphy is approaching 71 soon. He closed his GP practice on Mardyke Street in Cork city last year after retiring from the profession. 

His departure was marked with huge fanfare and applause. Tributes were paid from respected sporting figures across Ireland, while a gala event was held in the City Hall to wave him off into his golden years.

Murphy laughs as he admits that he was “embarrassed” by all the fuss, but he was also cooking up plans for his retirement days.

He wanted to travel abroad and visit friends around Ireland, while also continuing his work with Cork GAA and UCC teams, albeit in a less taxing capacity.

He’s also active on social media which is heartening to see, Kerry legend Tomás Ó Sé helped him set up his account.

I suppose there were so many people having a go at me jokingly. I said, ‘I better get involved.’ It’s all about fun, being on Twitter as opposed to me making any big statements.

“Tomás Ó Sé was one of the first guys originally. We’ve a good bit of banter over it.”

Adjusting to life after stepping away from the workplace is difficult at any time, but the transition has been all the more problematic for the class of 2020.

Still, Murphy is trying to make the best of it.

“It’s not easy,” says Murphy.

“I miss the contact with people. I used to meet a lot of people everyday at where I park [at] the River Lee hotel. And then at training. I miss all that.

“There’s a practice down the street that my son Colm joined, who’s the doctor with the Cork hurling team now. He took all my patients, so it was a simple transfer.

“It’s nice to have someone in your family looking out for your patients. You aren’t abandoning them as such.

“Training is totally different in so far as the players arrive out on the field and they go away from the field. There’s no interaction, there’s no meal to sit down so it’s a strange one.

“You’ve no people calling to the house. I do it by the book, so I have to say it’s been difficult.”

patrick-horgan-after-scoring-a-goal Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Murphy is one of the lucky few who can attend games under the cover of Covid-19, although he wasn’t able to go to watch the Cork hurlers. His son Colm has been growing into the role of being the doctor for the hurlers in recent years, as another member of the family steps forward to carry on the Murphy tradition in a Cork dressing room.

Still permitted to be with the footballers, Murphy senior could see that the goal-scoring hero Keane was “moving well” at training in the build-up to the Kerry game and credits him for being in the right place to catch that dropping ball in from Luke Connolly.

Ultimately, that win was a significant one for team morale after years spent wandering in the wilderness. But there was no trophy to collect at the end of it all against Kerry.

They’ll have to come back to Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Sunday and repeat the trick against a Tipperary side who will be happy to see all of the attention placed on Cork while they slip in under the radar.

Murphy will be back on medical duty for that day too. He just has to pop in to say hello to a few important people first.

“It’s made for Tipp, we’d want to be very careful.

“Tipp are balancing the books. I know Colin O’Riordan, he’s a fine player. He’ll make a difference.

“He’ll be a handful on Sunday. Sunday is a hard game for Cork. Tipp will fancy their chances.

“It’s fantastic [to be back in the Munster final].

It’s got everyone around Cork buzzing and we’re all looking forward to it, and they can see it on the television.

“It’s a pity no-one can get in, but such is life.”

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