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'It was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done... the ring is on now so I'm not so bad!'

Kylie Murphy’s unconditional love for Wexford Youths through the highs and lows is summed up by missing some of her own wedding celebrations for Champions League football.

KYLIE MURPHY SETTLES into her seat and gazes out on the sublime Aviva Stadium surface. The Wexford Youths captain makes one thing clear before the record button is hit and the interview gets underway: she’d rather just do her talking out there on Sunday.

15 minutes or so of brilliant conversation later, she’s apologising for rambling on.

kylie-murphy-lifts-the-trophy Kylie Murphy lifting the FAI Cup last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A few snappy quotes from the inspirational skipper herself to give you an idea of just how fascinating it was to sit and listen. You’re left hanging on to her every word as she looks to define Wexford’s underwhelming season in the FAI Cup final tomorrow.

“I actually feel that the more trophies I get to lift, the more I want to lift.”

“I have to say now that out of all the years, I would think that it’s been a low point.”

They’re just ah… I just fucking love them, they’re unreal.”

“It’s just not good enough.”

“Trying to walk away from this team would be next to near impossible.”

“Ah, the ring is on now so I’m not so bad!”

The final one on that list surely catches your attention and while we’ll go into much greater detail on all of the above, we’ll start with that brilliant story from a wide-ranging chat of highs and lows, joy and woe, all in equal measure.

If you’re not familiar with Murphy, you probably don’t know one of the stories of the Irish women’s football year. From her own wedding day to lining out in the Champions League, Murphy had a week to remember in August.

Herself and her partner, Essmay, tied the knot on home soil on the Saturday with two days to enjoy the celebrations together before Murphy followed her side out to Lithuania on the Tuesday, for a Wednesday kick-off.

It comes up in conversation after the 31-year-old touched on the fact that life gets in the way sometimes. But Murphy plain and simply wouldn’t let it. Football comes first.

There must have been near war?

“Thank God Champions League came after we got married,” the bubbly character laughs.

“Ah no, Essmay’s brilliant. She’s so, so understanding. It was just unfortunate. When we booked the wedding, I didn’t think… I probably thought I wasn’t going to be playing much soccer. You have to book these things so, so early in advance. But look, it all worked out.

“Football takes over everything. You think you plan it well. How was I ever meant to know that we were going to win the league in two years time and play the following August then?

“It was just unlucky or whatever. You can’t plan, unless you try to get married Christmas Day or something!”

It’s all fun and games looking back on it now after everything ran so smoothly, but the Carlow native concedes that leaving the celebrations, and most importantly Essmay, was really difficult.

Ah, I tell you now, it was hard,” she recalls. “It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Look, I wouldn’t take it back. I don’t think there’s many people that would turn down the chance to play in the Champions League.

“Scoring a hat-trick in the last game, I was like, ‘Maybe she won’t mind now!’ It was like, ‘Okay, it was worth it for that,’” Murphy jokes.

Her now-wife actually followed her out to Lithuania, that was the mini-moon. And Murphy counts her lucky stars every day that she has someone so understanding, and with the same grá for sport as she has, to share her life with.

“She’s fantastic,” she smiles, literally from ear-to-ear. 

I couldn’t get better, honestly. She’s so understanding. But not only is she understanding, she actually loves it. She’ll be here on Sunday. Banners on, she has the bus organised with 30-something people on it. She’s incredible. I couldn’t speak more highly of her.

Murphy has similar touching words for her beloved team-mates. They were nothing but brilliant throughout the whole wedding to Champions League ordeal, welcoming Murphy accordingly as she landed to the team hotel a day later.

“Fantastic,” she beams as the memories of a few months back resurface.

“They had a big banner done up for me. Then, they couldn’t bring it with them because it was glass, but they had a lovely jersey in a frame, they all signed it with, ‘Just Married’ on it. Half of them were trying to get the frame over, they’re mad.

“The girls are unbelievable, like. Even to feel that… that little thing would go through your head, thinking, ‘Do they actually know what I’m giving up?’ You know what I mean… the younger girls, obviously the likes of Nic [Sinnott] and that, they get it.

“But obviously it was running through my head, ‘Do they actually understand what it is that I’m actually giving up?’ That was definitely the biggest sacrifice that I’ve ever made for soccer.

To walk into them like that, they’re just ah… I just fucking love them, they’re unreal.

Murphy’s sheer passion shines through more and more with every single word.

Looking out on the immaculate pitch, she can’t help but smile over and over again. How good it is to be back, the return perhaps made even more significant by the disappointing season the 2018 treble champions have had.

This time 12 months ago, Wexford were coming in on such a high but this year, the momentum swings with Peamount after they were crowned league champions last week.

Above all else though, it’s great to be back. And on the hunt for silverware. She nods.

Ah, sure unbelievable. To be in a cup final alone is unbelievable. Playing out there, family and friends travelling up, all this. The occasion is just massive. When you step out there, it’s just unbelievable. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

“Last year was one of the good ones. We’ve been on both sides; we’ve been on the winning side and we’ve been on the losing side. We definitely don’t want to be on the losing side but it is going to take a hell of an effort to beat Peamount.

“Sure they’re buzzing after winning the National League. It killed me looking at them photos! But I’m delighted for the girls. To be fair, leagues don’t lie. The best team always wins the league. Every credit to them.

We’re definitely going in as underdogs anyway. It’s going to take everything. Both teams are coming to take home the trophy, we’ll just have to see on the day. Anything can happen, you know yourself. A cup day is very different.”

No stranger to the biggest day of the domestic football calendar year, Murphy lifted the silverware last November, just like the inspirational skipper did in 2015 after their heroic penalty triumph over Shelbourne.

kylie-murphy-with-the-fai-continental-tyres-womens-cup With the trophy in 2015. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In 2016 however, they were thumped 5-0 by the Dubliners. Murphy was suspended that day but the pain is still etched all over her face when she’s reminded of it.

With last November’s 1-0 win thanks to Katrina Parrock’s first-half goal freshest in her mind, Murphy admits the mood is quite different through the build-up this time around.

“I tell you it’s a weird one,” she notes. “I have to say I would have felt more pressure coming in last year. There was all this talk about the treble, ‘They’re going for this and going for that’, it was very much so focused on that.

“Even if we had came and not won, we were after doing extremely well already. I have to say I felt a lot more pressure last year. This year, absolutely nobody expects us to win. We don’t have anything to lose.

We just go out, play as well as we can play — hopefully the best we’ve played all season. We haven’t been at ourselves. We’re at 60-70 per cent but there is that in us. It’s there. I’m really hoping it’s going to come on the last day. One big performance.

Murphy is well aware that chances are often few and far between on the big day – take last year for example, Wexford had one perfect chance and they nailed it.

Should they successfully defend their title and stop Peamount from doing the double tomorrow, they’ll have to put away any that come their way.

“It can be a toe poke, it doesn’t have to be an absolute worldie of a goal, it can be anything,” she says, before being reminded of her own absolute worldie against Kilkenny earlier this year.

Then a grimace.

“That wasn’t a worldie, that was flukey. That was flukey! I try to do that the whole time and it ends up at the corner flag so… ah, it’s nice to have it, though.”

In the grand scheme of things, though, that excellent goal meant very little. Murphy turns more and more serious when she’s asked to reflect on the season as a whole.

Wexford have such high standards, and she assures that 2019 means pretty much nothing without silverware. The furthest thing from a successful campaign should the result not go their way tomorrow.

“I have to say now that out of all the years, I would think that it’s been a low point,” she frowns. “For me personally, and I would like to think that the girls would say that as well.

We’ve set such high standards. To me, and I do believe that all the girls think it as well, it’s just not good enough. We want to be winning trophies, we want to be competing.

“You know, we got bet by Peamount three times this year. It’s not good enough. You look at Shels there, two points away in the end and they pushed them to the wire. We were just left straddling.

“That’s not good enough, going out of the league. And then going to play league games there that just basically meant nothing. That’s not fun, like. You want to be in the business end of it and you want to be if not winning, competing.”

Those 90 minutes every weekend are the hardest of the week when you’re not involved in the title race and playing rather meaningless games, she says.

“They have to mean something. I play soccer because I love it but I’m extremely, extremely competitive. People might say, ‘Well, you have enough now…’ My family and friends would be laughing and joking saying I have enough and it’s time to give up because it takes so much effort, and it’s such a big commitment.

But I actually feel that the more trophies I get to lift, the more I want to lift. The hunger is not stopping. I want to keep going.

“It’s very, very hard,” she concedes, on how difficult it is to motive herself and her team-mates when they’re just going through the motions and fulfilling fixtures. “A lot harder than any other game.

kylie-murphy On the ball in last year's FAI Cup final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“You don’t want to feel like it’s a nothing game but realistically it kind of is, unfortunately. You’re going out, playing games and for 45 minutes you’re like, ‘What is wrong with us?’ We’re not clicking, people aren’t doing what we’re meant to be doing.

“It’s just… we got to the stage where it was like, ‘Right, we need to raise the bar.’ We won our first trophy and our second trophy and we kept going but you can’t stay there. No matter what you win, teams are coming after you.

I think maybe what happened this year was the likes of Shels and Peamount really lifted the bar and maybe we didn’t push through as much as what we should have. Maybe so, maybe not, that would be my thinking on it. Maybe we could have done more.

She adds, trying to make sense of it all: “There’s girls 20, 21 years of age and they have every medal in the National League that you can win, like. I’m 31, it’s taken me a long time to get to there like. It’s very hard to keep that hunger in the younger girls as well and keep motivated.

“You know yourself, life gets in the way sometimes. You have to have that will to say, ‘I can’t go out this weekend.’ That’s what it takes. I couldn’t be anything but happy for Peamount because I know that feeling and what they felt last weekend and are probably still feeling now is just incredible.

That feeling when you lift that trophy makes all the missed opportunities, missed events, missed family occassions all worthwhile. They’re all at the back of your head like and you’re just loving it.

Also a talented Gaelic footballer in her day, Murphy played with Laois up to minor level but continued to line out with her club Graiguecullen  for a while after. Until her second year playing National League, she reckons.

“I remember John Flood sitting me down and saying, ‘It’s one or the other… you can keep playing everything you want to play but you’re not going to excel at anything.’

“Obviously I would never have been going foreign but it would be more a case of picking up injuries, with my back and stuff like that, I couldn’t sustain training that much. You’re not recovering or giving your body time to get right for your next session.

kylie-murphy-and-aine-ogorman With Peamount captain Aine O'Gorman. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I gave it up then. Reluctantly. You know yourself with GAA it’s more a community and a club. You’re walking away from childhood friends that you’ve played with the whole way up. That for me was very hard.”

But she has that now in Wexford. As she says herself, she f***ing loves them.

It took a few years to build it in Wexford but now, I don’t think I could… trying to walk away from this team would be next to near impossible.

“The girls just.. I always say it really is like a family. We’re all such good friends, it’s incredible. And nobody can realise it til you’re in it.

“Lynn Craven signed for us from Shelbourne recently, before Champions League. She’s buzzing. She has often said, ‘I can’t believe it, it’s unreal, it’s a great group to be a part of’. Lyn has fit right in. She’s a Wexford player and that’s just what it is. She fits into the mould so, so well. She’s part of the family now and that’s it.”

That is it.

And what a family it is.

One Kylie Murphy loves unconditionally, through the highs and the lows.

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Emma Duffy

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