New generation schooled for success in Clare

Cratloe captain Martin 'Ogie' Murphy gets a rousing reception on a visit to Cratloe National School with  the Jack Daly Cup. Picture: Eamon Ward

AIB MUNSTER CLUB SFC FINAL:
Dr Crokes (Kerry) v Cratloe (Clare)
In 1978, after a replay, Munster beat Ulster in the Railway Cup football final.

The half-back line was: Páidí Ó Sé (Kerry), Tim ‘Horse’ Kennelly (Kerry) and Martin Murphy (Clare).

Two of those went on to join the very exclusive list of football’s marquee names, and for both Ó Sé and Kennelly, that win would be just a taste of even greater glories to come.

For the man from Clare, however, it remains a standout moment of his football career.

Small he may have been but Martin Murphy was more tiger than terrier. The whole Gaelic football world knows of the toughness of the Kerry pair but there are those who would argue that hardest of all in that Munster half-back line was the man from north of the Shannon.

Evidence? Rather than go back to the folklore of his many outstanding deeds on the pitch, we’ll go forward in time a full 34 years, to last year. By then aged 63, still toiling hard on site in his chosen occupation as a building contractor, Martin was working from a telescopic hoist, 30ft in the air, when he fell onto broken rubble.

His pelvis was shattered, he was in the most excruciating pain; his reaction? “First he had a cup of tea,” recalls his son, Ogie, “Then he allowed my brother drive him to Limerick hospital.”

And there, lucky even to be alive, in a long and complex operation Martin Murphy was quite literally bolted back together.

But of course there was always steel in Murphy, steel in him and in the many men like him in west Clare for whom Gaelic football was as much a religion as it is for those in Kerry or in any such football stronghold.

In 1980, two years after winning that Railway Cup medal, as both coach and captain Murphy won his one and only Clare senior title, in nine attempts, with his native Kilmihil.

Today there is another Martin Murphy whose name has been etched into Clare club football history, as Martin Ogie Murphy hoisted the Jack Daly Cup aloft before taking it back in triumph to his club for the first time in its history. On this occasion however the cup didn’t go west, it went south, to Cratloe. The stranglehold of the western strongholds was broken, with the famed Doonbeg denied in the final.

The link between Kilmihil’s win in 1980 and Cratloe’s in 2013 traces a regular pattern. Like many before him and since, Martin Murphy followed the work, migrated from Kilmihil and ended up in Cratloe, just outside Limerick city. He married Mary from the renowned Meehan hurling family in neighbouring Newmarket-on-Fergus and they had five children, sisters Michelle, Mary, Nikki and young Róisín, brothers Martin ‘Ogie’ and Seán.

Over time Martin was joined by other natives of his own parish, by Batt Crowley, then by Colm Collins. Over time also those three men began to exert their influence, introduce football at a serious level to what up to then had been a traditional hurling parish. “The football only ever appeared when it got too dark to play hurling,” recalls Cratloe native, Tony Considine. It paid dividends.

Tomorrow in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, Ogie will captain Cratloe as they face the might of champions Dr Crokes in the Munster club senior football final. On the team also will be one Podge Collins, son of Colm, along with Conor McGrath, son of yet another parish ‘blow-in’, Toomevara native Joe McGrath, and Conor Ryan, son of a man from Lattin-Cullen in Tipperary, another football parish. “Sure we’re all blow-ins!” laughs Ogie.

It has been some journey, and some of the trips along the way have been fairly hair-raising, to put it mildly.

Ogie: “I remember we went to an underage match one day, back to Labbasheeda, 13-a-side, and my father had the whole team in his Toyota Hiace van — we were sitting on tool-boxes, on hammers, you name it, trying to use our gearbags for comfort!”

“And when we got there they didn’t have a full team!” continues Murphy Snr; “I was told afterwards ‘Don’t ever again do it, you could be destroyed! If one of them had opened a door…’ But that was the kind of thing you had to do, to keep it going. I remember training sessions on a Wednesday evening in the beginning where we’d have Kevin Browne, Pádraig Chaplin, Seán Chaplin, Ogie, Michael Hall and Gearoid Ryan — six training for football, with an odd fella rambling in now and again. We kept it going for so long until eventually it kind of caught on.”

A slow start, but when eventually it started to move, it simply exploded. “Well we couldn’t have started from further back — junior B,” says Murphy Snr. “We won that county in 1991, beat Ballyvaughan in the final and I was still playing — trainer and captain the same day! We went on then, reached a junior A final but Lissycasey beat us — they went on to win the intermediate and senior with that team, fellas like Martin Daly and Colin Lynch playing. Michael Houlihan was still involved with us at that stage, he started football here really, John Ryan another man who had a huge influence on the growth of the club.”

Hurling wasn’t being neglected of course and even as the footballers began to improve through the 90s, so too did the hurlers, promotion to senior ranks gained in 1994 when the intermediate title was won. “Football was getting stronger all the time,” Martin Snr recalls; “We were still getting the odd straggler coming into the parish who had played football — a Dublin fella lived across the road from Setright’s played with us. But the hurlers started to play with us too, fellas who had never before played football. In 2002 then we met Doonbeg in a junior A final — our favourite team! We beat them by a point and Jaysus, that made us. Michael O’Gorman was captain, a hurler who had never played football but he was delighted. It took off after that. We went up intermediate, beat Clondegad in the final after only two years (2004) and found ourselves up senior.”

It was a heady rise, too heady for a few.

Ogie: “We found ourselves in relegation trouble, won a relegation final one year (‘We beat Corofin, last kick of the game, a mighty point by Ogie,’ interjects Senior, his guarded pride in his son slipping for a moment) but lost the year after, went down.”

Not for long though and soon came redemption — in fact it would prove to be the best season ever for the Cratloe club. “We now had several lads after coming through on to the Clare U21 hurling team that won the All-Ireland title in 2009 — Seán Collins, Conor Ryan, Conor McGrath and those,” says Ogie; “That year too we won our first county senior hurling title but we also won the county U21A in football, and we won the intermediate football again, ended up as Munster club of the year. Those lads played in all those games, all within a few weeks of each other — in fact it was Conor’s first game of football all year with the intermediates, that final.”

“Conor was also on the minor team that lost the county hurling final by only a point,” adds Martin Snr, which brings us to a thorny question: despite the fact that they have this year won that Clare senior football title, the best-known players on this Cratloe side are all best known only for their hurling exploits. Is it easier, then, to make good footballers out of good hurlers, rather than the other way around?

Martin Snr pauses — he’s a football man to the marrow. Dodging thorny issues isn’t in his genes, however; he takes it head-on. “Well hurling is a very stylish game, very skilful — there’s class in hurling but if you’re very fit in football, it’s a great advantage. And that’s Cratloe, we’re a very fit team. We have almost nothing done this year in football training. Before we played Quilty (Kilmurry-Ibrickane) in the first round I’d say we had only about three sessions done. It’s only after we got knocked out of the hurling we were able to concentrate on the football, that’s what has stood to us. But they’re just great athletes, it’s very easy then to make them into good footballers — in fact I’d say they’re better footballers than hurlers, the likes of Conor, Podge and all those.!”

How good — would they have beaten his own old Kilmihil team, for example? “Ah Jaysus — there isn’t a doubt in the world about it, far better forwards.”

So much progress made then, on two fronts on the field of play, on every front off the field, the club now with its own state-of-the-art superbly equipped gym, a massive indoor hall, outdoor tennis courts, a floodlit hurling alley — all the facilities in place. It hasn’t just happened, of course. In the same way that football success has been driven by the likes of Martin Murphy, Colm Collins and Batt Crowley, it has been driven off the field by such as John Ryan, by other heroes also, in the background.

Ogie: “Jody O’Connor was the school principal and he had us playing both games from the time we started school. All his own kids played and he was our coach, gave us all a great love for it. We won a few division two and three titles in hurling and football and that’s all you want. Even as we got older we were only playing U16C, minor C with the club. Then Colm (Collins) got the right stock at underage and suddenly we were winning at county A level. Today we still have those kind of people involved. Brian Lohan lives here now, as does Ronan O’Reilly from the Clare minor panel in 97, and they’re involved in coaching. Brian’s three kids are all going to the school here, two of them hurling with us, U6 and U8, and he’s down here training them — Alan Neville (Clarecastle native, on the 95/97 All-Ireland panel) and Brian Lohan training our U8 team! I don’t think they realise who they have over them.” That’s the glue that holds a club together, all that voluntary effort, no-one too big or too small to contribute.

In their Munster semi-final Dr Crokes met another dual club, Tipperary’s outstanding Loughmore-Castleiney. They treated with them due respect, duly got the expected win. They should now understand this: a club from south Clare Cratloe may be, a club with a hurling history that goes back beyond the foundation of the GAA; imbued with the spirit of such as Martin Murphy, however, they are now also very much a true football club.

Ogie: “After we won the semi-final, I was quoted as saying it was great consolation after losing the hurling, and people jumped on that; I didn’t mean it like it sounded, as though it was only secondary — I meant we still had something to play for. Most people outside the parish wouldn’t understand how much this means to us, but winning this county title was a huge ambition, and a huge achievement. Now we want to win Munster. Dr Crokes have an outstanding team but that’s what you want to do, play the best. We’ve met Quilty for the last four years, beat them, drew with them, ran them close, got hammered by them one year. Now it’s Dr Crokes. You want to play those teams, the best around, and they’ve been the best in Munster for the last two years. We’re in a no-lose situation but you never know; when the chance is there, you have to take it.”


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