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One of the unsung heroes of Irish football set for landmark achievement

Team captain Kylie Murphy is preparing to make her 200th appearance for Wexford Youths today.

Wexford Youths' Kylie Murphy is set to make her 200th appearance.
Wexford Youths' Kylie Murphy is set to make her 200th appearance.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LIKE ITS MALE equivalent, the Women’s National League tends to be dominated by young players.

The sacrifice required to compete at this level is significant, particularly when the lack of financial resources come into consideration.

Players, as they get older, often either will secure a big move abroad, or prefer to focus on family and jobs outside of football.

Moreover, the domestic game can be an unforgiving environment that takes its toll on the body.

Finding the motivation to compete year after year, given all these circumstances, is no mean feat.

Yet there are anomalies. Midfielder Kylie Murphy, who turns 32 next week, is a rare example of a player who has been representing the same club since the league was founded in 2011.

Today, as Wexford Youths travel to face Shelbourne, Murphy is set to make her 200th appearance for the team — something that would have been achieved last week, only for her side’s match with Galway to be postponed at the last minute after a Covid-19 scare

It’s a big game too, with both sides aiming to contend for the title and hoping to maintain 100% starts to the season. Building on past success won’t be easy for Wexford though, particularly without Ireland star Rianna Jarrett — a key player over the years, who left to join Brighton last January.

On her landmark achievement, Murphy admits she was unaware of the stat until the club informed her of it.

“It’s very surreal, isn’t it? I can’t believe it. I had a feeling I’ve been there forever, but I just didn’t realise I was at that level.

“It’s mad, I literally just found out myself. So it was a bit of a shock, to be honest. But it’s amazing.

“I suppose, it’s some sort of an achievement anyway.”

When asked if she ever keeps track of individual landmarks, her response is unequivocal.

“Oh Jesus no! I barely keep record of how many trophies we’ve won or the medals we get. This is probably the only stat I could tell you about myself, and only because I’ve been told.”

Although they are few and far between, Murphy says a couple of other footballers in the league would rival her in terms of experience and longevity.

“There are players I’ve played against since the start and especially a team-mate of mine, Edel Kennedy, she would be very close [to 200 appearances]. I was out for a year with my back, but she was also out for a year with her cruciate.

“Then the likes of Pearl Slattery of Shelbourne — she seems to be there from near the start [of the WNL].

“Myself and Edel are probably the only two that have stayed with the one team. The rest of the girls chopped and changed a little bit.”

Of course, playing for almost a decade at the highest level in the country requires considerable dedication, with Murphy balancing her Wexford Youths commitments, while working as a joiner in the family business –  Pat Murphy Kitchens.

I can’t say it’s been easy, or that it’s been hard. I just live and breathe it, it’s everything. It’s my whole life. I enjoy it so much, it is amazing. But it takes your whole. I’m at 200 now and I have given everything for the last 10 years. It does take a big effort to get to there. 

“Definitely in the latter years of my career when you’re looking for a bit of longevity and your career to last as long as it can, but not fade out, to actually make a difference and still make an impact, it takes an awful lot.

“For me, no matter what age you are, you should always be doing stuff away from training if you’re a national league player. Some do, some don’t, and I think it shows down the line whether you’ve put in the work, or you haven’t. That’s just the way it is. It’s not the type of league where you can just show up twice for training and play a game. You have to give everything, if you want to be successful.”

Success is something Murphy is certainly familiar with. During her time with Wexford Youths, the club have won a record four league titles and three FAI Cup triumphs.

A disappointing WNL campaign last year saw them finish third, 16 points behind winners Peamount. They ended the season on a high though, beating the reigning champions 3-2 in the FAI Cup final, with Murphy producing a clinical finish for the match-winning goal.

She lists that moment as one of the highlights of her career so far, which made all those hard days of training worthwhile.

She also credits nutritionist Yvonne Treacy for helping her maintain a peak level of fitness in recent times.

My regime this year in comparison to two or three years ago is completely different,” she adds. “Every year, you’re getting older and there are younger girls coming in. They’re faster and they’re fitter and are coming in at 17 or 18 years of age. When I was 18, you could just run all day. It’s just about being clever on the pitch now, you can’t be going around a million miles an hour, chasing every ball down. It’s just about having a head on your shoulders, I suppose.

“Every year, I find I’m working harder to keep up and to stay there. But I’m feeling good and fit. I’m close to 32 now and I feel like I’m probably the fittest I’ve ever been since I started.

“So that has to say something about what I’m doing away from training. My diet and my recovery, they’re so huge. I could bounce away from a game years ago and not be bothered the next day. But I feel like [now] it’s taking that extra day for my body to recover and the tiredness, you feel it. It’s a given with age, it happens, it’s going to happen to everybody. It’s just how you manage it. I’m really lucky, I’ve some really good people in around me helping and I’m putting in the work as well.”

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kylie-murphy-lifts-the-so-hotels-fai-womens-cup Wexford Youths' Kylie Murphy lifts the Só Hotels FAI Women's Cup in 2019. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Yet it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Murphy. She admits to considering her future in football recently, though the time away during lockdown ultimately consolidated her appreciation for playing the game.

“Before the pandemic, I was thinking: ‘I wonder how long more I have left.’ You’d be thinking: ‘Do I want a family? Or do I want to go travelling? Do I want to go do something?’

“It just made me not have that tie to soccer. I’m all or nothing. I wouldn’t half-arse it. So when you’re 100% in, it’s your whole life. And sometimes, that can be hard. But I can tell you one thing, as soon as the pandemic hit, I thought: ‘Sure, what else would I be doing anyway?’ So I’m in it for the long haul now, I can tell you.

“It’s just a bit of perspective, time to reflect. You take a step back and you realise: ‘Oh my God! I can do so many things afterwards, but there’s only so long I can play at this level.’ So I absolutely should do it until I can’t anymore.”

A love of sport was acquired by Murphy from a young age, playing soccer from six-years-old at St Pat’s Boys, while she stuck with GAA all the way up to minor level for Laois.

That inclination was evidently inherited, with her grandfather Billy ‘Buller’ Canavan part of a famous Carlow team.

“He used to kill me on the pitch,” she says. “He passed away now two years ago. He died on the day of my birthday. He wasn’t well, but it was awful.

He was at as many games as he could be, and even when he went into a home in the latter years, he had the whole old folks’ home watching when we were playing on telly in the Aviva.

“He was amazing. There was nothing easy. It was ‘get back up and hit harder.’”

At one point, it seemed as if a sporting career would not materialise for Murphy, before a fateful two-and-a-half-hour phone call from then-Wexford Youths manager John Flood prompted a change of heart.

“I had enough and had given sport up for a couple of years,” she recalls. “One phone call from that man and he got me hungry again. So I went down for a trial in Ferrycarrig Park and he actually signed me that day.”

On her reasons for temporarily quitting, she adds: “At a younger age, you’re playing every sport, and every age group of every sport that you can play. There’s school and lunchtime, training after school, maybe two training sessions. And Irish camps away at the weekend. You were getting taken out of school for a half day on a Friday to go away. I just think it got to a stage where I kind of had enough.

“I can’t say I regret it. Sometimes I think, maybe if I didn’t come away from it in them couple of years, would I have grown an awful lot as a soccer player? I’m not too sure. But I can’t take them years back either, because it was the way I was feeling at the time. I just had fallen out of love with sport. That’s all it really was — it wasn’t fun anymore.”

james-ocallaghan-and-tom-elmes Wexford Youths boss Tom Elmes (right) is among those calling for Murphy to gain international recognition. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

And for all Murphy has achieved with Wexford Youths, there is one notable absence from her CV. While lining out for Ireland at underage level, she has yet to be capped by the senior team. Wexford manager Tom Elmes has been among those backing her for a call-up, and while 16-year-old team-mate Ellen Molloy got the nod, Murphy was not included in the squad named by Vera Pauw on Friday.

“I can’t say the players there are not phenomenal, because they are. I feel it would have been nice to get a chance. Just one trial. Call me and see what you think and leave it at that.

“I’m not sure if I was ever good enough, I don’t really know. But I definitely parked that bus a long time ago.

“A couple of years ago, we were after winning the treble. I was playing centre mid. I had a really good season and had scored about 16 goals. I thought maybe that year, if it was ever going to come, it was going to come then. It just didn’t, and it was something I had to park. It wasn’t happening. I was putting too much emphasis on it anyway. Any camps coming up, you’d be thinking ‘maybe, I’m after having a good few months,’ but maybe it was never meant to be. Different managers like different players and things like that. I feel like maybe I could have given something, but I won’t dwell on it either.”

Yet regardless of whether she ever secures that elusive Ireland cap, Murphy can reflect on a superb career so far, encompassing winning goals at the Aviva and lining out in Europe against sides of the calibre of Ajax.

Although the WNL has attracted criticism in some quarters, Murphy believes the standard has improved during her 10 seasons there.

“If you were to look at team photos in the very first year and now, you can see the difference in girls’ physiques, how much fitter they are, the game’s getting faster and technically, there are so many good players coming into the league. And tactically, coaches are getting better.

“I definitely think it’s growing. It probably took a little bit of a slump in the middle and I thought there were maybe going to be a few more teams added 10 years on. But I can’t say it’s stayed where it is, because it hasn’t.”

Nevertheless, that is not to suggest the WNL is without problems, which have been exacerbated to an extent by the coronavirus crisis.

“Could it have moved faster? I think so. It needs a bit more backing from the FAI, a little bit more push, a little bit more media. But it definitely has changed.

“I think the level of interest with regards supporters, there seems to be a lot more people getting to the games. Obviously, it’s unfortunate now nobody can go.

“The likes of [FAI Cup finals at] the Aviva, the feedback you get even when people see it on television. ‘Oh my God, I really enjoyed it.’ They’re actually realising that these girls can play soccer and the games are so interesting. It definitely [needs] more of a push as regards media. I’m not sure if they have a sponsor for the league. Do you know? It’s unfortunate, it shouldn’t be happening nowadays.

But obviously you have to take Covid into consideration. There are a lot of businesses not doing well. Hopefully a sponsor comes in soon. For it to be the most elite league in Ireland, it doesn’t look great to not have a sponsor. But hopefully, a lot more people take an interest in it and it keeps growing, because it’s fantastic and there are some super games going on week in week out, so it’d be great to get that little bit more support.”

And while the financial struggles of several League of Ireland men’s clubs were well-documented during the pandemic-enforced break in sport, the fact that there is not much money in the women’s game to begin with meant it was not as severely affected.

“Things like that weren’t really going to affect female athletes, because there’s nobody getting paid to play. There’s not that aspect of it – they didn’t have to cover wages or anything.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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