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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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'It is now somebody else's dream' - moving on from a legendary career, but keeping a close eye from afar

One of the very best, Juliet Murphy on all things ladies football, Cork, not comparing men and women’s sports … and Take That.

“I WAS ONLY texting Éamonn Ryan about it during the week,” Juliet Murphy smiles, looking to the weird, but hopefully wonderful, championship that lies ahead.

“I said, ‘I’d give anything for just an hour to be running after a ball.’”

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-championship-2020-launch Cork ladies football great Juliet Murphy. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The Cork ladies football legend, arguably the best to ever play the game, is envious in ways, but not in others. An eight-time All-Ireland winner and a central pillar of Ryan’s all-conquering Rebels, Murphy is in the spotlight to launch the 2020 All-Ireland ladies football championship.

2020 marks the 20th season of TG4′s sponsorship, so it’s only fitting for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Brendan Martin Cup winning captain to take a trip down memory lane, assess the current state of the game, and look to the future.

With the senior championship kicking off this weekend, there’s an air of excitement amidst the uncertainty. While there’s been weeks of talk about whether or not it should all go ahead, the hurling kicked off at the weekend without a hitch. So far, so good, anyway, and the ladies football edition too is going to be different and special. A championship in which 40-year-old Murphy would love to be playing.

Just in the current climate, that whole sense of mindfulness,” she enthuses on a Zoom call. “Playing sport, you’re just engrossed in what you’re doing. It always is just a release of frustration and anxiety, and you get that with sport.

“I probably don’t envy the cold season, I’d much prefer to be playing during the summer, but I’m sure the girls won’t mind just getting out training. It must be a great feeling to be able to do it right now.”

A primary school teacher on Leeside, Murphy has slipped out of class to take the call.

She’s enjoying her work through the Covid-19 pandemic, though it certainly has been more stressful. A mother of two who has also managed a gym in the past, her life now seems worlds away from those inter-county glory days — and she paints that picture beautifully.

While Murphy announced her retirement in 2013, three years later, she conceded that she missed it more at that moment in time than she did when she first retired. She no longer pines for it like that, however, and is at peace with her past.

“I’ve definitely come to terms with it. So much so, it’s hard to even… looking back on that life, it seems almost like another person because so much has happened since.

I remember when we used to have our playlist on the bus, we’d have that Take That song playing: ‘This will all be someone else’s dream.’ It’s very much the case because when your time is gone, your time is gone, and it is now somebody else’s dream. They’re living and breathing it.

“It’s funny, I suppose particularly since I’ve had children, my mind and my focus towards sport has definitely changed and it has highlighted to me actually, the difficulty with females, in particular, when they have families of staying involved in sport and even keeping up to date with what’s happening with matches.

“I don’t have the opportunities as much as I had to be up to date. I’m sure when the kids get a little bit older, and hopefully they’ll be involved in sport, that I’ll get back in again. But it does certainly highlight the challenges for people, having had children and trying to stay still involved with sport.”

ephie-fitzgerald-talks-to-his-team-after-the-game Ephie Fitzgerald with his Cork team in 2018. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

While not directly involved, Murphy has managed to keep an eye on the inter-county ladies football scene to some extent, from afar. In a nutshell, she sums it up early on in the call: “Dublin have raised the bar another notch over the last few years, but I don’t think Cork have been that far away from Dublin either.”

Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues are still the team to beat, she says, the reigning champions seeking their fourth All-Ireland crown on the bounce this year. The Donoughmore club woman, like everyone else, is amazed by their physicality and fitness levels — but she believes they are beatable.

Could Cork be the ones to gun them down? Well, that’s the big question. While the Leesiders haven’t reached the Holy Grail since Ephie Fitzgerald’s first year in charge in 2016 — their then-third All-Ireland final victory in-a-row over Dublin — many feel the time for them to get over the line once again could be now. 

Murphy feels Cork “have every chance” once again, though she’s not fully sold.

I think there has been a level of progression with the team,” she explains. “I do think at times the team is lacking something and I’m not sure what what that is, maybe it has just been a little bit of luck, and maybe Dublin would have felt the same against Cork for years; that it was just that little bit of luck to get them over the line.

“Maybe Cork have been a little bit unfortunate in the last few years, they’ve also had a lot of injuries. It’s hard to put… I suppose I don’t want to be outspoken and say anything too controversial either because in truth, I don’t know enough of what is actually happening internally.

“But I actually don’t think there’s too much separating Cork at all from [Dublin]. You’d never write Cork off. And not just because of the tradition of winning, but even just the players that they have, I think they’ll be there or thereabouts again this year, for sure.”

Looking at ladies football on a wider scale, the changes since Murphy was in her prime to now are astronomical. Even since she hung up her boots seven years ago, things have vastly changed drastically. Other things, though, have stayed the same.

The profile has risen ten-fold and the standard has also increased, while many point to improved All-Ireland final attendances year on year — the record has been broken each year for the past seven years, with 56,114 watching on in Croke Park last September — as the epitome of the higher interest.

It’s been “phenomenal,” Murphy beams, but there’s work to be done to spread that throughout the year rather than just at the marquee event. That’s the challenge, and what’s more important for the development of the game, she assures: “It can’t just all be about the All-Ireland final, in my view, it needs to be consistent.”

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juliet-murphy-celebrates-with-eamonn-ryan Murphy with Éamonn Ryan in 2012. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Then follows a question about recent calls for travel expenses for inter-county ladies footballers. Dublin manager Mick Bohan highlighted the disparity last week with captain Sinéad Aherne echoing his words that questions need to be asked.

Only 7% of female county players get any travel expenses, according to the Women’s Gaelic Players Association [WGPA]. The journalist pointed that stat out, asking if that’s something that needs changing and if there are other areas where women’s sport and women’s Gaelic games are being left behind in comparison with men. 

“I don’t think you can compare, and I don’t think it’s right to compare,” Murphy responded. “The LGFA sees itself as a separate organisation to the GAA.

“There are lots of benefits-in-kind to players. I think it’s probably a little bit premature to be talking about expenses, I just couldn’t see how the affordability is there. I think it links with my previous point [on attendances]; if you’re looking at gate receipts, it’s just not viable.

I don’t think it’s a logical argument to say, ‘Oh, look what the men have, and us women don’t have…’ Maybe we can look at what we are doing ourselves, and the comparative, I don’t think, isn’t helpful and I don’t think you’re comparing like with like.

“In fact, I’d see the two games as actually quite different games, even in terms of strategy and how the game is played. I think we have to stop this comparative between men and the women. Women need to get behind women for this to come to the fore.”

That too applies when it comes to dual fixture clashes, which Murphy has become “completely intolerant of” through the years. Discussing the recent furore from the Cork camp riles her up, and she fully supports them taking strike action if needs be.

While just one clash remains with camogie and ladies football semi-finals confirmed for the same day after other fixtures were moved, the Cork great doesn’t mince her words when asked for her thoughts. 

“I think your resource is your players,” she begins. “Of any association, there are your asset. In this case, it’s a shared asset. It needs to be looked after, it needs to be minded.

In Congress for both camogie and the LGFA, it hasn’t been passed [to recognise and support the concept of a dual player]. I don’t know who the are people behind these decisions, but it would appear to me that it’s mostly administrative personnel, and not players. Players need to have a voice, they need to be listened to, and they need to be looked after.

“Mary O’Connor, Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, Angela Walsh; I can remember them going on car journeys the length and breadth of Ireland, playing a match, maybe the day before or the same day, and tearing to a match to make the other one. As long as players do that, it becomes acceptable.

“I think the players really have to take a stance here because they are the asset in both organisations. They’ll have to take a stand, and their teammates will have to support them in this because it’s just not good enough.

juliet-murphy Murphy on the ball in Croke Park in 2013. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’m completely intolerant of this because I think it’s it’s a desperate situation. If you think about it, even if you compare it to the workplace, I mean, there’s no way you would ask somebody to do that. Why would you do it? I just, I don’t know… sorry, I’m ranting.”

She gathers her thoughts, and notes on the potential strike action: “It just shouldn’t come to that, given the amount of years that we’ve had this. Certainly a decade and a half anyway.

“I don’t know why the Associations aren’t making more of an effort to improve relations to ensure that this doesn’t happen.”

Plenty of progress made, but a long way to go yet. That sums it up at times. And it’s a nice way to round off the conversation; you can never rest on your laurels.

Murphy certainly hasn’t, that’s for sure. And it’s fitting that the very last question is about her new career move as a road bowler. She laughs when it’s mentioned, and explains how she’s following the family tradition handed down from her grandfather.

She’s been playing with her father and uncle the past two years and has been enjoying every minute.

“I’m not too good at it, not good enough to win an All-Ireland anyway,” she adds.

Yet.

“No, it’s unlikely to have that hope I’d say.”

Never say never. If anyone can do it, Juliet Murphy can.

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Emma Duffy

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