Legendary Cork medic Dr Con Murphy admits he feels a bit lost, cocooning during the Covid-19 lockdown, and he hopes today’s GAA players look after their mental health during the sporting shutdown.
It has been a difficult adjustment to life in retirement for Dr Con, as he explained to Anthony Daly and Mark Landers on the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast.
“I’m finding it hard enough. I retired on the 20th of December from general practice, having reached the age of 70. Suddenly I found myself missing my patients and then cocooning. I was looking forward to staying with the teams, doing the training. I haven’t that either, so I feel a bit lost. But I’m getting on with it. I’d love to have the matches back.”
Dr Con doesn’t expect to see GAA return any time soon, but has been impressed with Uachtaráin John Horan’s leadership, particularly his interview on The Sunday Game when Horan admitted GAA is unlikely to return while social distancing is required.
“I thought John Horan handled it very well,” Dr Con said. “A big problem is we’re dealing with the unknown. We’ve never been in this situation before and nobody wants to take a chance with anybody’s life. So I don’t see anyone rushing to have us playing.
“The thing I’d be very worried about is the mental health of the players. Because they are not used to this. I saw an article on the paper today about one player struggling with his gambling addiction. There’s a danger of the boredom factor creeping in for players and they’d want to mind themselves and know that there’s people there to talk to if they are in trouble.
“But I think one thing that might come out of this is it might put a different perspective on the whole game and people might see they could be doing more with their lives than all this training.”
In a wide-ranging chat, Dr Con reflected on the highs and lows of more than 40 years in Cork hurling and football dressing rooms.
The hurling strikes were particularly tough, with Dr Con caught in the middle of the standoff between players and the county board.
“It was a hugely stressful time of my life because I was neither one thing nor the other. I remember Dónal Óg (Cusack) coming to me, meeting me above in the River Lee hotel, and he said ‘if you come out in support of the players you’ll unlock this’. And I said straight up I couldn't handle the stress of it. It would ruin me.
“And I didn’t sleep that night. At about 3 o'clock in the morning, my mobile went off. Dónal Óg. ‘Sorry for putting you on the spot. You owe us nothing, Thanks for all you’ve done for us.’ Which I really appreciated.
“But it was a horrible time. And it has left a sting still. Not bad now, we’re gradually getting over it, but it left a sting for a long time. It was a civil war situation type really.
“People think I’m going to write a book, but I’m not. I would have no intention of detailing all that trouble we had with the strikes. Life isn’t worth that.”
On a happier note, Dr Con recalled the biggest thrill of his early years as Cork doctor — sitting beside Christy Ring, then a selector.
“I was in awe of him. He got so excited during the matches he wasn’t easy to sit beside. But he brought a huge amount to the setup in so far as he was idolised. He didn’t say much in the dressing room. He always wore a shirt and tie and he always stood at the door as we were leaving the dressing room saying, ‘we’re from Cork’. It was an incredible sight.
“When I was sitting beside him I’d be looking at his wrists. You wouldn't believe the size of them compared to mine. Mine were like chicken legs. He was naturally powerful and had great presence.”
A favourite Croke Park memory remains the footballers’ All-Ireland win in 2010.
“They were a smashing bunch who killed themselves training, who suffered humiliation in Dublin from Kerry. We really suffered for years. Unlucky sometimes, beaten fair and square others. But to eventually win was massive and they deserved it and that’s why I got such a kick out of that.
“One of the saddest dressing rooms I was in was the 1979 hurling semi-final against Galway. John Horgan, the captain, was split and I was stitching him afterwards, and he was crying and I was crying. And it wasn’t that we’d lost the four in a row but we knew it was the end of the line for the team.”
Dr Con’s popularity well beyond Cork borders endures and he recently had a visit from a Tipperary deputation.
“I was very chuffed. Joe Hayes and Pat Fox arrived down the week I was retiring. And Joe gave me his Munster Final 1991 Tipp jersey. Which I thought was a nice touch. Joe is a great character.”
Dalo's GAA Show: Dr Con on cocooning, Ringy and the strikes