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Dublin: 1 °C Monday 21 October, 2019
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French adventure - Michael Murphy swapping life with Donegal for Clermont

The 2012 All-Ireland winning captain is going trying his hand at rugby.

The Donegal captain is next up on AIB's 'The Toughest Trade'.
The Donegal captain is next up on AIB's 'The Toughest Trade'.

HE’S NOT FROM a rugby hotbed, he’s not really sure what position he’s best suited to play and given he studied German in school, he’ll need to try to break the language barrier as well.

Still there’s no masking Michael Murphy’s enthusiasm for his next sporting project, heading to the Massif Central in France to try out the life of a professional rugby player with Top 14 outfit Clermont Auvergne.

It’s part of ‘The Toughest Trade’ – the brainchild of GAA football championship sponsors AIB – which has seen in recent years Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrell try baseball, Armagh’s Aaron Kernan experience soccer, Tipperary’s Brendan Maher sample cricket and Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea get a glimpse of American Football.

Murphy jumped at the chance when it was offered to him. Last week Welsh rugby great Shane Williams was immersed in Gaelic football life with Murphy’s home club Glenswilly.

“I met him (Shane Williams) the first day when he was up and I barely laid eyes on him for the week,” says Murphy.

“He seemed to be quite busy and that’s generally all I know. The lads got on very well with him in the club, they had a very good word on him.

“The brief meeting that I had with him too is that he’s a lovely fella. As I say, I heard he scored four points.

“We were training that night, not too far away with Donegal and it was a bad one, going through the full elements.”

A trip to France is a novelty at this time of year for Murphy compared to the usual grind and hardship of pre-season training with Donegal.

“Once I heard the rugby thing, it definitely was something that would have interested me. The time of year, everything just works out perfectly to go and give it a rattle.

“It’s a game I haven’t played too much of. It wasn’t huge where I was growing up back at home in Letterkenny. It was always a game I would have followed, would have watched.”

His time in college in DCU allowed him to have more of a front-row view of rugby.

“It’s just a game I do enjoy watching. When I was up here in college over the four years too, got to a good few of the Leinster games, couple of the Ireland games, various things like that.

“It probably would have been one of the sports I would have liked to have played if it had have been a wee bit more prominent back home. Yes, I would sit down and watch soccer, I’d be a Liverpool fan but after that it’d be rugby. I just enjoy watching it, I enjoy the physical nature of it.

“I’d be watching more European stuff rather than watching the weekly French rugby. I would know a bit about Clermont, you would have seen them in the Heineken Cup. I know a few of the Claremont players, Fofana, Parra, and Rougerie is still knocking about too. It would be good to possibly meet them and rub shoulders with them.”

What position he will have to get to grips with remains to be seen.

“Not a clue, hopefully somewhere not in the front row anyway!”, laughs Murphy.

“I don’t think I would have enough mastery of the oval ball to play fly-half! You would think somewhere along the backs, I would think anyway.

“Obviously the challenge of being able to hold and kick an oval ball is going to be something to get used to. The challenge is set out there and I will go for it and try to nail it anyway.”

He’s not concerned about the prospect of incurring injury or that the experience will hinder his upcoming season with Donegal.

“Obviously it’s something that’s going to be thrown at us, the possibility of getting injured. Come here, you could just as easily get injured at a training session back home.

“I certainly won’t be going into it like that. I will be going into it to try and get as much out of the week as possible, whatever is in store for me, to get into it, learn as much, and really challenge myself.

“I’ll be back in sufficient time for the first national league game. I have done a hell of a lot of training so far this year and being away for five or six days isn’t going to affect things too much. I’ll be back with 10 days to go before the start of the national league.

“I don’t know the actual whole itinerary but what I’m expecting is to be going over with the first team and to figure out what they’re at on a week to week basis.”

French adventure - Michael Murphy swapping life with Donegal for Clermont
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  • Taking the Donegal sidestep to Clermont Auvergne

  • Trading an O'Neill's football for a Gilbert oval ball

  • A dual star - swapping Gaelic football for rugby

Adjusting to a sport with a defined tackle will be a notable difference.

“I did a bit in Australia the time with the compromise rules. I don’t know if it’s a similar tackle, it’s probably a lot more technical than that tackle was.

“That tackle was just you get the player down in any way possible. I’m sure there could be a couple of crossovers there but, again, that’s the bit of the apprehension I have with it.

“It looks physical but I’d say it’s a hell of a lot more technical. Anything in and around a ruck is going to be one of the main challenges over the course of the week.”

The mention of Australia links in Murphy’s previous brief foray into professional sport. The Donegal captain was a prime target as a youngster for Australian Rules clubs, with Geelong at the head of that pack chasing his signature.

But Murphy reckoned homesickness would have affected him too greatly and he turned it down. Five years ago he captained Donegal to Sam Maguire glory and is enthused about the prospect of leading a Donegal squad in 2017 that is infused with youth after being stripped of experienced figures over the winter.

A stint playing rugby with Clermont Auvergne in late January is a pleasant warm-up for the year ahead.


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Fintan O'Toole

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