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'It’s still there' - wound of Red Óg Murphy's loss remains fresh for Sligo

Keelan Cawley and Tony McEntee explain how the squad continue to deal with his tragic loss.

Red Óg Murphy.
Red Óg Murphy.
Image: Inpho

IN THEIR CONNACHT quarter-final against New York in April, the Sligo players took to the Gaelic Park field with a subtle tribute. 

Stitched onto the bottom of their jerseys was a special inscription.

‘Red Óg 13′

The squad were still dealing with the death of former team-mate Red Óg Murphy only weeks earlier. 

When the horrific and tragic news broke, Sligo were due to have training that night. 

“We didn’t train, we just met up and had a cup of tea,” recalls team captain Keelan Cawley. 

They talked. They cried. They laughed. They told stories.

“The lads that were in college with Red or his club-mates didn’t travel down.

“That was a hard topic for the squad to take. A lot of the stuff (we did) is personal towards myself and the squad.”

It’s been a couple of months since his passing and the wound is still fresh. 

“I think it’s still there,” says manager Tony McEntee of the grief at his loss. 

Sligo head into the Tailteann Cup semi-final in Croke Park today with Red Óg’s memory very much in their hearts.  

He had opted out of the panel this year, but played in every one of their league and championship games in 2020 and 2021.

Murphy came through the underage ranks with a host of the current panel and played college football alongside them too. His easy going nature and affable personality made him a popular member of the panel.

The tributes flowed online from a sporting network that saw multiple lives touched by the gifted attacker with an elegant skillset and a fierce attitude. His ability to joke and lead separated him from his peers.

“You just look at the outpouring on social media. When the news came in about Red, you could just see what sort of character he was and how many people appreciated him for who he was,” says Cawley. 

“We have good supports there and in fairness to the GPA they set-up around us.”

As Sligo players grappled to digest the news, the players’ body provided counselling to all players.

“The initial shock…we had a number of counselling sessions and the players had individual counselling sessions,” McEntee explained. “I think the impact, obviously apart from the immediate impact, is still there on a few of the players.”

It’s not lost on McEntee that the grief may surface again once their season ends.

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The benefit of being involved in a team environment is the players can lean on one another for emotional support. They can share the burden.

“Realistically, I don’t know if that will be something that will raise its head once Sligo’s over this year because at the minute the players are in that wee comfort bubble of having each other for support and that. 

“When the season is over and they go back to themselves, will that rear its head again? I think it probably will. There are a couple of them still receiving counselling from that, which I think is good and positive and should be encouraged. I just hope that continues when the season is over.”

McEntee is wary of using Murphy’s death as a crusade for his players. He’s also conscious that going through a traumatic experience like this might unify the group.

“Without sounding callous here, Red Óg was a huge part of Sligo and had a huge future in Sligo, but I’m not sure if it’s useful to continue to remind ourselves of people who you loved and are now gone.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to try and deal with, I don’t know how that is going to pan out over the next couple of years, I do hope it adds to us but who knows.”

Red Óg Murphy left his mark on this world. It was just too soon for him to be taken from it. 

And when the Sligo players run out onto the Croke Park turf today, he’ll be watching over them.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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