Considering it is a hurling-only club, it’s interesting that oval balls have an influence at Sarsfields.
Item one is American football.
On Sunday nights, captain Tadhg Óg Murphy’s house is the venue for watching NFL — with Kieran Murphy, Éanna Martin, Alan Kennedy and Eoin O’Sullivan among the gridiron aficionados.
“It’s a bit of a foodfest,” Murphy says, “I should be saying only in the off-season, but it happens every Sunday. We have a bit of a fantasy league going and there’d be murder. Fraggie [Kieran Murphy] is the commissioner so he rules the roost, he makes up his own decisions.”
The mutual interest has led to an annual intra-squad challenge match, one which has grown more serious year-on-year.
“The next one will be Bruschi Bowl VII, it’s named after Tedy Bruschi, who used to be with the New England Patriots,” he says.
“Fraggie and Eoin Sull came together and came up with the idea that we’d play the day of the Super Bowl. We went down and played, it was only five-a-side, but then the next year it was 11-a-side and it has been ever since.
“Fraggie and Eoin Sull are the two captains and half the game is spent with the two of them bickering and the rest of us standing around. When it does get going, it’s serious enough, there’d be good plays and it’s a bit of craic. We have a trophy and everything, a miniature of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and Sully does a lot of organising. He made a programme one year, it was about 30 pages long, he spent a fortune in college printing it off.”
While the American football has a role in aiding team spirit, rugby has been more directly beneficial, as William Kearney reveals.
“About six or seven of the minor team that won the county in 2007 had played rugby together for Christians,” he says.
“That minor team never had much success coming up, but during the winter we were all playing rugby. I was scrum-half, Dan was out-half, Craig played centre, Daniel Roche was on the wing, Cian Smith was No 8 and Garry Grey was on the wing.
“What we developed through rugby was the tackle. [Current manager] Pat Ryan gave us a few training sessions when we were U16 and he always complimented us on the way we wrapped. I wouldn’t be the biggest so to counteract that I’d wrap my hands around quickly and then try to make the block.
“That came from rugby and it served us well, it toughened us up a bit.”
Murphy and Kearney have suffered at times over the years from being too versatile, but both have impressed during the run to tomorrow’s final against Glen Rovers. Should they win a fourth title in seven years, Murphy will lift the cup of his near-namesake, Seán Óg Murphy, having been appointed captain by Ryan upon his return as manager.
“He rang me around December and asked me on the phone,” Murphy says. “He told me to go away and think about it, but I didn’t need any time, you can’t say no to captaining a group of players like this.
“It’s enjoyable all right and it’s exciting to be involved in a county final as a captain, but my role within the team hasn’t really changed. We’re lucky that the youngsters from 2008 have come of age and they’re the real leaders.
“Craig Leahy, Daniel Roche, the Kearney twins — it seems like yesterday that they were the babies of the team but they’re driving the thing from behind the scenes.”
The emergence of so many talented players has seen Sars become a force. For Murphy, it has been an incredible transformation.
“My old fella [former Cork dual player Tadhg Murphy] was playing in goal in 1997 trying to get a medal when he was 43, it was all he wanted. To be involved in so many county finals over the last few years is unusual, I suppose, but it’s unreal for the club.”
Kearney was one of those who emerged in 2008, but it has taken until this year, and becoming established as a corner-back, for him to nail down a definite starting spot.
“This is the first year that I’ve had a totally settled position,” he says.
“Last year, I played midfield, wing-back and corner-back at different times, I’d say at this stage that I’ve played in every line on the field. In 2009, when UCC won the Fitzgibbon, I was playing corner-back, but we had so many good players there I hadn’t a hope of getting in. Bertie Óg [Murphy] was the first to play me wing-forward.
“I was never a natural there but I’d have got the job done, I was more of a donkey-work player that way. I’m much more comfortable in the backs.”
He never expected to be in a position where a fourth title would accrue, but then he has never looked at it in such a way.
“It was never really about county titles,” he said. “All of our best friends play hurling, we enjoy it, it’s our social life, it’s our everything.
“Your competitive instinct comes into play then, which is probably the most important thing. If you have fellas who are competitive and dedicated and willing to work hard, that’s a recipe for anything to happen.
“It is very hard to believe that we’re going for four in seven, you’d never have believed that when we started off. At the same time, it’s not something that we think about, you just focus on winning the next match.
“I’d say that no matter what I was doing or any of the lads were doing, they’d want to be as good as they could. I don’t want to finish my career saying, ‘I wish I’d worked harder in the winter’. To me, it’s about giving your all and having no excuses.”
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