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Sligo will carry with them Red Óg Murphy’s legacy

Red Og Murphy passed away on Friday, April 1, at the age of 21.

Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

AS IT IS across rural Ireland, the club’s flag at the top of the town is a signal. Green and white reserved for different spheres of the emotional spectrum. Once it flew for overflowing celebration. Then in a time of immeasurable mourning.

His coffin was adorned with the same colours. A football, boots and an All-Star Sigerson award were some of the offertory gifts presented during his funeral. As his former teacher and coach Colm McGee explained during the eulogy, around these parts just two people are known by their first name because of their exploits on the big stage: Red Óg and Bono.

There was the junior match when Murphy scored 3-11 of 3-15. His first action after the final whistle was to seek out McGee and ask what he could do better.

“I thought he was joking but he genuinely wanted to know. He had an elegance and an ease on the ball and weaved his magic.”

red-og-murphy Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

His gliding genius was most obvious at the GAA club. There he took centre stage. Red Óg Murphy had no grá for activation or band work. Video analysis and conditioning exercises were counterproductive. A cause for overthinking. He was at his best when he kept it simple. And what was simple to him was sensational for everyone else. The boy and the ball, a piece. Dancing around a field in Bunnacrannagh. During his life, it was home to some of his greatest joys. Personal triumphs.

During a lengthy chat with this writer earlier this year, Red Óg Murphy told a fitting story. It was during a conversation about personal frustrations with his form in the aftermath of his return from Australia.

In the summer of 2020, they played a group game against Molaise Gaels. Curry were awarded a free out near the wing and a chance to level the game. He pulled it left and wide. The result was an irrelevance. They were already through. Still, he was shattered. That mistake refused to vacate his head.

In the end, that night he returned to the field and lamped balls over the bar. In the dark and rain, he repped that shot over and over. The sides met again in the county final and sure enough, with a slim lead, Curry were awarded a free from the exact same spot. He nailed it. A few minutes later, there was another opportunity from near the sideline and he repeated the trick. Flare and flamboyance, heart and soul.

During the same conversation, he spoke of his admiration for David Clifford. Undoubtedly a big man, but one who excels thanks to his skill rather than his strength. Kicking side-lines over gym sessions. They shared a sense and a purpose. An innate desire to play elegantly and freely.

What a heart-breaking tragedy that when David Clifford took to the steps of the Hogan Stand and spoke of his regard for Red Óg’s ability, he was doing so in homage to a departed icon. Curry’s golden prospect, with immeasurable potential on and off the field. “I just want to send regards from everyone in Kerry GAA to the family of Red Óg Murphy from Sligo,” said Clifford after their league success.

“We were all lucky enough to see Red Óg play in the Sigerson this year, and we all saw what he could do.”

The same club that cherished all the magical moments now must contend with incomprehensible pain. After his funeral, outside the school and down the main street they lined the streets to offer a last embrace. In times of such sadness, it is often the club that comes to the fore. Opening their doors to offer solace and gentle guidance. Helping a community find direction in a fog of utter grief.

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jack-lavin-lifts-the-trophy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The game finds a way to remain meaningless while becoming vital at times like this. Last month, Sligo’s U20s persevered until the end and turned over Mayo to secure a dramatic and historic Connacht title. Captain Jack Lavin scored the winning goal. Post-match, his voice energised by emotion, he explained what was going coursing through their heads.

“To be honest, the last week or two, I’ve been thinking a lot about Red Óg Murphy. I played with him two years ago on this team. He was the last captain of this team before me. He was an idol, to be honest. Just what happened, it was so sad. For his family, as well. This is for them. This is for Red Óg.”

They think of him still. They will carry him with them today as they head into an All-Ireland semi-final. Murphy won a Sigerson Cup All-Star earlier this year. For that competition, his gloves and socks were sponsored by BGM Sports. In the aftermath of his death, a family member contacted BGM with a request. Would it be possible to custom make a pair of gloves in his memory?

First, they were made for his club and college. County players became involved. Then demand grew. They decided to sell them in various colours. Yellow and blue for DCU. Green and white for Curry. Black and white for Sligo. Sales rolled in from every county in Ireland. Friends, team-mates, opponents, and admirers all determined to channel what he stood for. The best possible tribute. A portion of the proceeds will go to Pieta House.

On the gloves is the date of his death and three proper and powerful words, written in his handwriting.

‘Óg go Deo.’ Forever young.

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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