'The biggest influence on the Murphy family and our lifelong involvement in the game of hurling was our father, Maurice.' (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Yours is a family with a rich hurling tradition – no doubt as to who introduced it?
The biggest influence on the Murphy family and our lifelong involvement in the game of hurling was our father, Maurice. He was born in Aghabullogue, which is in west Cork, and after leaving school at 18, took up his first placement with the ESB in Dundalk as a clerical officer. Following his marriage to our mother, Rosetta, he lived in Dowdallshill before moving to St. Mary’s Road, where we lived for the rest of his life. Following the young death of our mother, in 1977, he had to rear myself, my four sisters and two brothers on his own, including my brother John and sister Niamh, who were very young at the time of her death. Dad was involved with Moninne and county teams at both juvenile and adult level and it didn’t matter what the standard was, he just loved to be involved in the game.
Other roles he filled?
Chairman and secretary of our club, and also at Coiste Iomana level as well as on the Executive Committee of the Louth County Board, a position I currently hold myself. He was affectionately known as ‘Mr Hurling’ in Louth and rightly so. I would have spent many hours with him in our garden shed at the table vice, repairing broken hurls, and to this day I myself use the very same vice to fix hurls in my own garden. One thing he would be delighted to see now is Naomh Moninne having a home pitch of their own; thankfully that is not very far away with our current development continuing in Toberona.
Which club did Maurice first associate with in town?
When my father moved to Dundalk as a young man he got involved with the only hurling team in town, Erin’s Own. He became involved with Naomh Moninne in the mid-1960s.
He was a great promoter of the game?
My father was a great man with the pen and he used this talent to write up articles and match reports which he submitted to both the local ’papers in the town. Not only would he write reports of Moninne club games, but also keep followers of the game up to date with the activities of juvenile and adult county teams. If there was a game on he would be at it, with myself normally in tow, and you could read about it in the ’papers the following week.
Would there have been hurleys in his three sons’ Christmas socks?
I don’t remember receiving a hurley for Christmas, but I do recall my older brother, Tim, receiving a brown leather pug, or football as you would call it nowadays. I was about six years of age when my father arrived one day with a large quantity of hurleys into the house and he gathered up all the boys from the neighbouring families on St. Mary’s Road and headed straight down to St. Helena’s Park for a puck about. Among these boys were members of the McBride, Coburn and Fanning families, all of whom would go on to play for Naomh Moninne and even in some cases the Louth team. On the subject of Christmas presents I would have got train sets over the years, and it is ironic that despite gaining a diploma in electronics from what was then called the Dundalk RTC, I ended up working for Irish Rail on the Carrick Road and I am here now 35 years and counting.
Can you remember your first organised game?
My first hurling match would have been with the CBS primary school hurling team, picked by one of to the Brothers whose name escapes me. My first game for Naomh Moninne would have been at U14 level where we competed against the only other two teams in the county at the time, Wolfe Tones (Drogheda) and Naomh Colmcille (Ardee).
How did your career progress after that?
I would have played at all grades up to senior, picking up county titles along the way, but one of my personal highlights on the playing field came as a young lad playing for Moninne in the 1983 Leinster senior club championship. We had easily accounted for Wolfe Tones to take the Louth title before travelling to take on Longford Slashers in the Leinster campaign. At 19 years of age I was picked to play at corner-forward on a pitch that resembled a mud bath. We beat the Longford champions thanks to my two goals, one of which I remember scoring on the volley – good memories.
I would have played for both the county minor and U21 teams with some rare appearances for the senior team. I would not have been the most skilful of hurlers unlike my two brothers, Tim and John, who would go on to have accomplished careers in The Wee County jersey. John even went into management and was a selector with the county senior team, alongside manager Dee McCarthy, which captured the Lory Meagher Cup in Croke Park in 2016 with a terrific victory over Sligo, a game shown live on TV.
During my time playing juvenile hurling some clubs managed to dominate for certain periods, among them Wolfe Tones, which would have restricted the number of medals I got my hands on. This is not to say that I don’t have my fair share of them lying around the house, including some senior championship and league medals. My achievements were two senior championships; two senior leagues; four junior championships; four junior leagues; a minor championship and league.
You also tried your hand at football?
My first football experience was playing with Seatown in Cumann Péil na nÓg with my father as a selector alongside others, among them Terry Doherty. We trained in the old Gaels field in the Ramparts and I remember Terry insisting that we turned up for training in ‘rain, hail or snow’. I then moved on to playing for Dundalk Young Irelands who at the time played their home games at the Marist College field which was handy for me as it was directly opposite my home on St. Mary’s Road. I recall playing corner-forward in an U16 final, which was unusual for me as I normally played in defence. The opposition was Clans and I remember scoring a cracking goal into the top right-hand corner, off the ground from outside the box. It’s strange the small things you remember. I think we won that final.
Somehow, you also found time to take up refereeing?
At 15 I was asked by Fr Ambrose Kane from the Friary Church if I would be interested in refereeing for the local Cumann Péil na nÓg. I went on to referee both football and hurling for over 25 years before stepping down in 2005 to concentrate on my official roles with my club.
Tell us about the twins.
I was refereeing a Cumann Péil na nÓg final featuring Naomh Bríd, involving the McKeown twins, Derek and David. I booked one of the brothers in the first half and went on to issue a second booking to whom I thought was the same player and sent him off. The club were adamant that my second booking was, in fact, to the other brother, but I did not change my decision. We still laugh about it when I meet the boys in town.
You graduated to the county panel – your biggest game?
My biggest game would have been the 1992 junior football championship final between John Mitchel’s and Glyde Rangers, at Haggardstown. It turned out to be a low-scoring affair with the Ballybailie outfit winning, 1-4 to 0-6.
You’re not a tall man – how did six‐footers take to you chastising them?
I recall one particular incident from that 1992 final, which my wife, Fiona, regularly reminds me of. I booked one of Mitchels’ midfielders, a chap called Kane, who must stand over 6 foot 5 ins. I am not a big man myself, so as I looked up to him waving my finger to reprimand him and take his name, laughter could be heard coming from the banks of the Geraldines’ pitch.
How many would you have red carded?
I always considered myself to be a fair referee, applying those two famous words: ‘common sense’. A few clubs may argue this fact, however. I would say you could count the number of red cards I issued in single figures.
You’ve been prominent in organising the Poc Fada – your thoughts on this unique event?
It is a terrific event, held annually on our own doorsteps up on the Cooley Mountains, at Annaverna, on the August Bank Holiday weekend. The competition was started in the early 1960s by An t-Athair Pól Mac Seain (Cumann Ogra Naomh Moninne), so naturally my interest was always there and although not directly involved myself with the organisation of it, I would always help out on the day, carrying out the duties of a Fear Scór (score marker), who accompanies the competitor around the course, keeping a record of his number of pucks. The views of Dundalk, Carlingford and afar from around the 5km course are breathtaking, but on the week leading up to the event everyone involved is praying that the weather is good on the day to add to the spectacle. I always say that even if you are not interested in hurling or sport in general, a trip out to Annaverna on Poc Fada day is recommended for anyone, young or old?
Some of the biggest names in hurling have competed on Annaverna.
The Poc Fada is an event more suited to goalkeepers, and down through the years some of the best have taken on the tough challenge. Cork legend and recent Dublin manager, Ger Cunningham, captured the title seven years in a row from 1984 to 1990. Others included Tommy Quaid (Limerick) and current Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald (two-time winner), but the best ever competitor over the 5km course would have to be the current record holder with nine titles between 2004 and 2015, former Tipperary goalkeeper and now RTÉ pundit, Brendan Cummins.
It’s an All-Ireland event – how supportive have Croke Park been over the years?
Things have improved in recent years with a national committee taking on the responsibility of organising the event through the various provincial competitions. It would still fall, however, on the shoulders of the local committee members, among them my sister, Josephine Maguire, Pat Hartnett, Damien Callan and Pat Hamilton, to ensure the smooth running of the competition on the day itself. One thing that is lacking from those in Croke Park is the promotion of the event itself, with the winner receiving an All-Ireland medal. I would love to see more advertisements on national TV and radio, as well as in the national papers on the week leading up to the competition to help attract more spectators up on to the mountain.
Would you be happy with the backing hurling gets in this county?
I would have to say that the relationship between the hurling clubs and the County Board has improved a lot over recent years. We all know that it is a football county, but those of us involved in the small ball game would always try to ensure that the game gets the respect it deserves. One of the good changes was the playing of the county senior hurling final alongside a football final and even more recently the County Board have been right behind the holding of an all-hurling finals day, with a juvenile final acting as a curtain-raiser to the senior final, and this has worked well. I also believe that the inter-county set-up has much improved, with the county hurlers getting everything they need. The current county manager, Paul McCormack, is doing a good job.
Your county team, other than Louth?
That would be the home county of my father, Cork, and I would follow their progress with interest in both the league and championship every year. All-Ireland success has been in short supply over recent years and they have only captured the Liam MacCarthy Cup on three occasions over the last 20 years, in 1999, 2004 and 2005, but I know that they will come good again.
But you can only admire all that Cody and Kilkenny have achieved?
What can you say about Brian Cody only that he is the most successful inter-county manager ever, guiding Kilkenny for about 20 years. He has led out his black-and-amber charges, the same colours worn by my own club, on to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day on 16 occasions and his success rate is not bad either. They have lifted Liam MacCarthy 11 times. The man is a legend.
Moninne had Cody down for an anniversary celebration a few years ago?
Founded in 1959, the club celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2009 with a dinner dance in the Fairways Hotel. A club colleague of mine, Paul McAviney, travelled down to Kilkenny on a couple of occasions and managed to convince Brian Cody to be our guest speaker on the night which was a great coup for such a small club. Also in attendance was GAA President, Christy Cooney.
How did the night go?
To raise much-needed funds for our new pitch development, we ran a major auction. We got our hands on sporting memorabilia from a wide range of sports. Among them was a signed Kilkenny All-Ireland final jersey, an Ireland and British Lions jersey, signed by the Ireland players, and also items generously donated by golfer, Pádraig Harrington, who had won his second Claret Jug the previous year. A large amount of money was raised on a wonderful night for the club with many past and present members in attendance.
Do you take an interest in other sports?
I am a long-time supporter of Leeds United, who, before this lockdown, were on top of the Championship table. I hope that they deservedly get promoted to the Premiership. I also enjoy watching International rugby in particular, as well as cricket, golf and darts.
One you wouldn’t watch?
I would have to say, without a doubt, MMA.
The best hurler you’ve seen?
This is a very difficult one as I have seen so many good hurlers over the years. I always enjoyed watching Galway defender Gerry McInerney, from their team in the ’80s, especially when he wore his infamous white boots. Then there was Jimmy Barry Murphy, who was also a terrific dual player and manager of his county. Of the current crop of players I would pick out Pádraic Maher (Tipperary), Joe Canning (Galway), TJ Reid (Kilkenny) and Patrick Horgan (Cork).
The best game you have seen?
Louth hurlers lost to London in the 2005 Nicky Rackard Cup final in Croke Park. The game was the curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland senior semi-final between Galway and Kilkenny. Louth were featuring in the first-ever Rackard final and a large number of Wee County supporters travelled up to the capital, some of them probably attending a hurling match for the first time ever. The senior match which followed will go down as one of the best All-Ireland semi-finals, a game that featured nine goals, with Galway qualifying for the final on a scoreline of 5-18 to 4-18. However, my father’s home county would go on to beat the men from the West to capture the title.
Take your pick – Louth footballers or Moninne winning a Leinster title?
I think that the Louth footballers are a long way off capturing a Leinster title, what with the current dominance of the Dublin team. I was always of the opinion that your club comes first, so I would go with Naomh Moninne. Years ago the Louth champions would have competed in the Leinster senior club championship and I remember we narrowly missed out on taking on Buffers Alley from Wexford when we lost our second round match. Nowadays, with the competitions all graded, the Louth champions take part in the junior club championship and I firmly believe that this is an achievable goal for my club in the not too distant future.
You’re following in your father’s footsteps keeping the local ’papers well informed on hurling matters?
Sadly, my father died within 12 months of his retirement from the ESB, in 1995, and I stepped into the role of club PRO that year and it is a position I still fill to this day. I continue to keep followers of the small ball game informed through writing up match reports, be it club or county matches, and it is something I really enjoy. When The Democrat came out every Saturday morning, I helped compile the weekly club matches, both football and hurling, which involved ringing up all the club PROs to get the details on a Monday morning after an action-packed weekend. To this day, I keep all my hurling ’paper cuttings in scrap books which is now totalling about 40. They are great to look back at.
Are newspapers your favourite read?
In general I do prefer to read newspapers and my favourite daily tabloid would be ‘The Star’ as well as both of the local weekly newspapers.
What about films?
It would be a toss-up between two terrific prison-based movies, The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, alongside The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks.
In general sports-themed books and autobiographies.
Moninne win the Leinster and you’re encouraged up to sing at the celebrations – what would it be?
I would probably manage a few bars of ‘We are the Champions’, by Queen.
Something else that might surprise us?
Along with my brothers we would have stayed awake at night listening to the BBC Radio cricket commentary by Henry Blofeld of Australia against England for the Ashes, among other matches.
Get those invitations out and invite four people to dinner.
Comedian Peter Kay; actor Morgan Freeman; Nils Lofgren (guitarist with the Bruce Springsteen E-Street Band) and Leeds United manager, Marcelo Bielsa.