Official Aras Mumhan Website

30th March 2024

It is heartwarming, in this era of increasing sporting caution, to speak to an athlete that just exudes passion for what she does.

By Daragh Ó Conchúir

While insight on structures, tactics and conditioning is welcome, sometimes the reason everyone kicked a ball or picked up a hurley for the first time is forgotten in the quest for silverware.

At the core of anyone’s participation in sport, at any level, should be joy and excitement.

Certainly, that is what Cork corner-back, Méabh Murphy exudes. Today’s Very Camogie League Division 1A tie with Galway at Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park (2pm throw-in, live on the Camogie Association’s YouTube channel), is a tie that in all likelihood, the Rebels must win to reach a third consecutive League final in a row at Croke Park on April 15.

The lost the last two deciders to the westerners, who remain in contention themselves for a third straight title if they can get a draw or better against their old rivals. There was little between them when Cork got the upper hand in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final on the way to climbing the Hogan Stand steps to receive the O’Duffy Cup so Murphy is expecting another tumultuous battle.

Although only 21 in July, the Ballinora defender has established a reputation as an excellent marker, and finished last season with an All-Star nomination to go with the coveted All-Ireland medal.

She has continued in that vein of form through the Very Leagues but while some might find the prospect of having to neutralise just one of Galway’s stellar attacking talent stressful, Murphy embraces it, in full knowledge of the fact that she will be pushed to her limits.

With Niamh Mallon, one of the best forwards in the land for most of the past decade and a former Down teammate of Cork’s own Mourne recruit, Sorcha McCartan, now in the Galway ranks, the challenge looks even more significant.

“She is a top player,” says Murphy. “We played against her when we played Down last year and she stood out. She’s one of the best in the country.”

But for Murphy, the great thing about being tested to the limit is that you get the chance to discover just where those limits might be. And to extend them.

“In our eyes it’s a League semi-final and everyone’s goal is to get to a League final. It’s Galway as well. We always have great battles against Galway so that’s always something you look forward to.

“Whenever we play them it’s always been very tight. It goes down to the wire and it’s usually whatever team plays better on the day.

“You always want to come up against the best. Even in training, I’d be marking the best in the country so it’s not much different going up against the Galway forwards I suppose. But it’s definitely something I relish and it’s an opportunity I’ll relish, if I’m playing, to go up against the best in the country and to see where you’re at.”

Cork’s style of play places a very high demand on skill level and comfort in possession, regardless of the number on your back. When you see Murphy’s style of defending, you understand why she has fitted in so well.

She is all flicks and touches, speed, agility and alertness. Playing short passes, taking them in areas of the pitch that give those in the stands heart palpitations, is no problem when you are a pick-pocketer rather than a wrecking ball. It’s part of the gig now.

“I love playing camogie,” is what it all comes down to. Why freak out when this is all you ever wanted to do?

“I love practising the skills. I’m always trying to improve in that way and if you wanna play for Cork, the standards are very high so you have to do more and get out of your comfort zone to be able to add value to your team.

“Skill execution is always something you have to improve and when it comes down to it, that is often the difference.”

The grá came from home. It is all she has ever known.

“My family have a huge interest in hurling. My dad introduced me to camogie and is a proud clubman. My brothers play as well. We’ve just always enjoyed it and been passionate about it.

“I’ve always loved playing for my club. My dad used to bring me to Cork matches but you’d never know, would you be good enough to play with them. It’s probably always a dream at the back of your mind.”

She got to wear the blood red jersey first at U14 level and won an U16 All-Ireland in 2019 before having two seasons at minor, albeit that one was wiped out by Covid. Olivia McAllen, Aoife Healy and Orlaith Cahalane were among her colleague in those two squads.
Last year was undoubtedly the highlight of her nascent career to date, of course.

“Getting over the line, my first (senior) All-Ireland, it’s always the dream for every player to win an All-Ireland. We had a long year. Things weren’t going smoothly the whole way through but for me, the Kilkenny (quarter-final) was a big turning point for us to get over that. To get that win was special and we carried that momentum through against Galway and then Waterford.”

Squad strength proved significant in the knockout stages and competitive training raised the bar. That is only multiplied this season with some fresh blood again.

“The only way you’re going to win is if you have that environment, everyone driving each other on. Everyone encouraging and everyone competing to get on the team,” reasons Murphy.

A second year secondary school teaching student at UCC, where PE and maths are her subjects, she admits that her chosen profession is conducive to continuing to be a high-performance sportsperson but it isn’t why she chose it.

“You’re not working late or getting up early. I suppose that might have been a factor when I made the choice but it wouldn’t have been a reason. I just always loved sport, which is why I wanted to do PE and I loved school as well.”

That is for the future. Today is about a high-wire joust without a safety net. And yes, the Championship is the ultimate goal but Cork, while still top of the roll of honour with 16 triumphs, have gone 11 years since winning the League, losing five finals along the way, including those last two to today’s opponents. There is no doubting the hunger of the current crop to address that.

“We were in two League finals the last two years and getting to a League final is a great experience. Any day you get to play in Croke Park is a great day and it’s a good experience to have it so early in the year.

“It’s always tough opposition as well so you can always take a lot of learnings from that and improve as a team so we’ll be doing our best to make it again but Galway will be very tough as they always are. It should be a great game.”

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