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The Donegal captain with Clermont and the Welsh rugby great playing for Glenswilly

A new sporting experience for Michael Murphy and Shane Williams.

Shane Williams and Michael Murphy swapped sports.
Shane Williams and Michael Murphy swapped sports.
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

MICHAEL MURPHY AND Shane Williams both got to sample another sporting life recently.

Murphy tried his hand at rugby in France while Williams pitched up in Donegal to play Gaelic football.

The end result will be broadcast tomorrow night in ‘The Toughest Trade’ on RTÉ 2. Here’s what the pair made of their respective experiences coping with the rules, physicality and lifestyle of a different sport.

Michael Murphy

The rugby experience…

“I was delighted I did it. I don’t know if it was something I would have done when I was younger. I probably would have just went into my shell and been afraid it was too much.

“The learnings I got and the positive experience I got was once in a lifetime. It was brilliant.”

Adapting to a professional sport…

“The full day was a bit different. Doing a training session, and then twiddling your thumbs for a couple of hours. They just sleep for an hour and a half, two hours in a day.

“I was just buzzing from the earlier training session, dying to know when the next one was.

“They’re so in tune to their bodies. They get themselves ready an hour before the training. Whereas back here, you get out of the car, everything is done within ten minutes and you get out onto the training ground.

“That was the big difference. There’s less recovery in Gaelic football.

“They were in between weeks, their senior team. So a lot of the stuff they did was run-throughs and walk-throughs on the field. The physicality was kept down. They did fairly heavy stuff off the field, in the gym.

“When they hit the training ground, they focus. It is nearly like an act as such, they were able to nearly turn on a switch.

“There is no couple of mistakes happening in a warm-up, a bit of a rollicking and the next drill everyone is up and at it. They are on the money straight sway.”

The physicality of rugby…

“I was waiting for my first hit to get ready to get mauled! I was delighted to experience that. They’re absolutely just specimens of men.

“I realised just watching the (Ireland-France) game on Saturday, I always followed rugby and I always knew it was physical from watching it, but to actually feel it and know something towards what they were going through, it was definitely something I took home.”

Garry Ringrose with Djibril Camara Ireland's Garry Ringrose with Djibril Camara of France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The humility of the Clermont players…

“Going over there, you’re going into a professional setup, you’re in season. I know myself if someone was to come into the Donegal setup and we were really in season, you’d think it’s a slight distraction.

“It was one of the biggest surprises when I was over there, how genuinely humble they were. I had a preconceived idea going over there, this is probably not going to come across right, but with a professional environment, maybe sometimes they take things slightly for granted or maybe they just do their job.

“But straight away from the first day I went out there, they were scrapped.  They just were genuinely very welcoming. It wasn’t just an act.

“They were very curious about the Gaelic football background. They’re a very humble kind of club. I don’t know is that a culture they really try to create.

“But every morning the 100 people within there, they shake hands with each other. You don’t dare not shake hands with someone.

“Obviously in a professional set-up players are coming from a wide variety of cultures, a wide variety of backgrounds.

“It would be very easy to do their own thing and go away on tangents, but they come to Clermont, they get stuck into the Clermont culture. It was a very social, family thing.

“Players, it is not an act, they just love Clermont. They are mad for them to win, the same way we would be for Glenswilly or Donegal to do well. They are just hugely passionate.

“They are extremely friendly as a whole bunch. They socialise together, they go out for dinners in the evening.”

Coping with new rules….

“I knew the basics. I wanted to throw myself into the whole area around tackling and the ruck and the breakdown. Watching rugby, these last few days, I still don’t fully understand the breakdown!

“Jono Gibbes did a lot of work around that with me, so that was brilliant.

“To see the game at the weekend [England vs Italy] and what was going on, that just added another layer of confusion.

“It’s crazy how technical the tackle is. How your body position and shape and your feet have to be right.

“You just think automatically in these games there’s 15 coming on 15 and these boys are just flinging their bodies in the way. Trying to think of all that technique and get power and pace into your tackle was something difficult.”

A new position…

“I played a mixture of the wing and the centre. It was interesting, the certain little intricacies of it.

AIB's The Toughest Trade - Shane Williams and Michael Murphy Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“You were lining up beside (Aurelien) Rougerie, he was telling you a play, you were pinching yourself and before you knew it a ball was coming flung your direction.

“They were accommodating bringing you along, it was all through French so they did make an effort.

“The couple of English lads that were over there in terms of meetings gave you key pointers. They expected you to be on the money as much as any other player.”

AIB's The Toughest Trade - Shane Williams and Michael Murphy Welsh rugby great Shane Williams Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Shane Williams

The GAA experience….

“I loved it, I really enjoyed it. It was unexpected really. In Wales, we obviously don’t have much GAA but I came over here, did a bit of research before I got over, spoke to the likes of Tommy Bowe and these guys who played it before, and I thought, ‘What have I let myself in for?’

“I took to it quite quickly. I’m not saying I was any good, but I knew what I was doing. The community side of it was overwhelming, the support they had for the game.

“You could see how big an ambassador the likes of Michael Murphy were for the town, not only the team.”

Coping with new rules…

“What I found quite bizarre is that I could be standing there waiting for the ball, rather than going to get the ball, and then someone would come next to me and just smash me off the ball.

“I’d be looking for the referee and they’d be like, ‘You’re allowed to do that.’ Little things like that I had to adapt to really, but it was good.

The ref, in fairness, kind of gave me a little bit of leeway. But things like that, me used to running with the ball looking for space, rather than bouncing the ball and kicking the ball and keeping the ball open was very different.”

A new position…

“I was up front, which I think was probably the right choice really – ‘get him out of the way and hopefully get the ball to him some time during the game and try and get him in front of goal.’

“The conditions were the most bizarre conditions I’ve ever played in in my life. We had a bit of rain and it was a bit cold, but we went in and got changed, opened the door to go out for the game and I couldn’t see anything. It was just white, a blizzard of snow.

“Tough conditions, a lot of running involved. I didn’t expect it to be that tough in that respect. We had a great game and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”

Treatment by the opposition…

“The guy marking me, I tried a couple of times having a chat with him, but I don’t think he was having any banter. I think he was taking the game far more serious than I was!

“As the game went on, I think he got a little bit tired and we had a bit of a laugh, saying, ‘We’ll have a beer after we’ve warmed up.’

“He definitely didn’t take it lightly on me. What I’ve found with these Gaelic footballers is they’re quite proud sportspeople.

“Even though it’s an amateur game, they take it very seriously. I had a couple of shoulders in the face and off-the-ball incidents, but as I was told in training, that’s part of the games. I literally took it on the chin, I suppose.”

The physicality of the game…

“Everywhere I went I had to have physio because I was so tired. At the end of the week, I was physically shattered. I knew I’d trained hard that week – physically and mentally.

“The pitch is a lot bigger so you are going to cover a lot more ground. That was a little shock to the system. We had an early morning weights session as well. I haven’t done anything like that since I finished playing rugby.

“It was fun. It was good doing something different. I played rugby for 14 years professionally. So to do something like that was refreshing.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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