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The son of a Monaghan footballer will start his first NFL game this Sunday

Patrick Murray has won the kicking job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Patrick Murray in action in college.
Patrick Murray in action in college.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

IT’S A SURREAL experience to be talking to a young American football player about to make his first start in the National Football League only for him to wax lyrical about the performances of Donegal and Kerry in last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-finals.

But Patrick Murray is no ordinary NFL player.

Born in New Jersey, Murray grew up kicking frees over the bar at St. Tiernach’s Park in Clones on his summer holidays but he was far from the first Murray to grace the Monaghan venue.

His father Aidan played at senior level for the Farney and his uncle Ciarán won an All-Star as captain in 1985, the year Monaghan scooped both the National League Division 1 and Ulster titles.

Due to his close ties to Ireland, Murray was very tempted to go to college here. However, he opted for Fordham University in New York and it was there his kicking career really kicked off.

In his last season with the Rams in 2012, the now 23-year old led the NCAA with 25 field goals and averaged 46 yards per punt to rank second. He also connected on four field goals of 50-plus yards, including an impressive 55-yard effort against Cincinnati.

The offers should have flooded in for Murray at that stage but he wasn’t invited to a single training camp with an NFL team. Things did not look good.

But Murray persevered, attending open try-outs and eventually catching the eyes of both the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the end, it was the Florida franchise who took a chance on him

“I signed a futures contract in January and joined the training camp this summer,” Murray told TheScore.ie when asked about his career path this afternoon.

A futures contract basically allows teams to take a punt – if you’ll forgive the pun – on long-shot players like Murray, without too much financial risk. Murray’s task at training camp was never going to be easy, however. He was up against veteran Connor Barth, the most accurate field goal kicker in Tampa’s history.

On Friday though, it was announced that Murray would be the Buccaneers’ starting kicker for the 2014 NFL season.

“It was very hard in training camp to kick against a veteran like Connor who has had so much success in this league. He pushed me every day and I became a better player because of that competition.”

Murray is quick to dispel any myths that kickers are not athletes, insisting he has to train just as hard as everyone else on the team.

“You can’t just rely on a strong leg any more. You still have to go to all your meetings, you still have to make yourself strong.

“You have to be an athlete to be a kicker in this league but you’re also there to do a specific job and that’s to put the ball between the posts. That requires focus and mental strength as well because you don’t know at what stage you’ll be called upon.

“I suppose I come from a different background in playing GAA so I believe you can’t get away with just being a big guy with a big leg. Of course you need to work on your core and lower body strength but it’s your ability to focus on the posts and put the ball through them that will set you apart.”

Source: Damond Talbot/YouTube

Murray agrees that a lot of up-and-coming kickers in the NFL share the same mindset but it’s a quote from a four-time Super Bowl winner, Adam Vinatieri, that really motivates him as a player.

“Keep your head down, the crowd will let you know if you’ve made it or not.”

And Vinatieri should know having kicked the game winning field goal in not one but two Super Bowls.

Another inspiration for Murray is Ronan O’Gara, particularly the Munster and Ireland out-half’s consistency.

“When I first started, I went on YouTube and watched as many clips of Ronan as I could, how he prepared for the kick, doing the same thing every time. I’ve tried to bring that into my game though I have a lot less time to kick than he did,” he jokes.

When Murray delves further into his own GAA background, you can sense the excitement in his voice when he’s talking about Kerry’s win over Mayo last Saturday, particularly in relation to “[James] O’Donogue and [Kieran] Donaghy’s performance without the Gooch.”

He’s less keen to discuss Monaghan’s demolition at the hands of Dublin in the quarter-finals though, admitting “that was tough to take.”

Murray still watches as much Gaelic football as he can and tries to get back to Ireland every summer. “I feel like Ireland is my home,” he says despite his New Jersey birth, “and even thought about going to college there.”

As for the season ahead, the Buccaneers are aiming high under new coach Lovie Smith.

“Our destination is Phoenix in February, it’s the Super Bowl. We’re preparing like we’re going to get there. For me personally, getting a ring is always the number one goal but making all my kicks this year and helping my team would mark a good season.”

As for Sunday’s season opener against the Carolina Panthers – his first career start – Murray’s focus is on the team.

“It would be nice to kick a 50+ yard field goal but if I can kick six extra points that means we’ve scored six touchdowns and I’d take that as well.”

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Steve O'Rourke

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