Austin Murphy recalls the cold November morning spent at the home of Mullingar rugby back in 2008.
Every detail is frighteningly laid out. Every nook and cranny vividly portrayed, his memory of that Saturday still as fresh as ever. Little wonder really, given the Clara captain spent almost three and a half years wondering had the trip to the midlands ended a hurling career very much in its infancy.
Aside from donning the maroon of his native parish, Murphy was a keen rugby enthusiast and when the GAA season entered hibernation he would make the short sojourn into the city to throw his lot in with the Kilkenny junior rugby set-up.
A heavy frost descended the night before and Murphy is still adamant the fixture should never have been fulfilled.
Into the second-half Murphy was set upon by three Mullingar shirts when going over on possession. Snap. Pop. Three months in a cast. Two surgeries. Three years spent on the casualty list with a whole host of medical professionals lining up to tell him he would never hurl again.
“I fell on the ball and three lads fell on me. In sum, I dislocated my left kneecap, snapped all my ligaments in my knee and ruptured my nerve,” said the corner-forward, laughingly. This is a story he has recounted endlessly.
“I was told I would never play again. I thought my career was over. I went to the surgeon Tadhg O’Sullivan and I cannot thank him enough for the work he did on me. His surgeries were top notch. I had to get my knee reconstructed first in 2008 to repair the damage to my nerve and clean up my knee really.
“The following year I had to get my two cruciates done, my ACL and PCL. Tadhg O’Sullivan again looked after me. In essence, he saved my career. Along with that a lot of hard work in the gym went in, a lot of hours spent working on your own. That work was central to my recovery. It is tough going at times when you are training on your own. You don’t know whether it is all for nothing.”
Murphy turns to last Sunday, senior success 12 months after earning promotion from the intermediate ranks. A victory against the odds. Similar to his own story.
“It is days like last Sunday why I never gave up hope. Every single hour has paid off. You don’t realise what you have until it is gone. I was young at the time and I thought I would hurl forever. Now you go out and hurl every game as if it is your last. As morbid as it sounds you don’t know what is around the corner, you don’t know when something might happen that will endanger your playing career.
“I returned to the GAA pitch around Easter of 2012. I was determined when it came to the gym and many a lonely night was spent there. There are no team-mates there to spur you on, no dirty drill where everyone is backing everyone up. Some come back from it, some don’t. I was just 23. I was too young to go from being active all the time to retirement. I was eight when I started hurling and I wasn’t ready to let it go.”
Though celebrations have been “mental” this week, the captain claimed focus hasn’t deterred from tomorrow’s assignment against Oulart-the-Ballagh. Clara captured the intermediate title in 2007 and with only six days to prepare for the Leinster opener against Meath’s Kilmessan, Murphy admitted the week was spent on the tear. The same mistake won’t be made twice.
“We are under no illusions. They have so many household names. We had a meeting on Wednesday just to refocus the minds. We are proving to everybody that we are a decent side but we know the Wexford champions have had one over Kilkenny teams in recent times, Oulart in particular. We’ll be keen to reverse that trend.”
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