Josh Murphy isn’t alone in trying to balance an elite sporting career with medicine.
The rowers Paul O’Donovan and Phil Doyle are both dividing their time this past few years between their work on the water and one of the longest and most tasking of third-level courses. Both are major medallists with Olympic podiums in their sights.
Mark English, who has won three European Championship medals is another and five-time Dublin All-Ireland winner Jack McCaffrey was a classmate at UCD.
Murphy’s case is slightly different in that he is a professional athlete who is a member of a team that trains in the mornings when doctors invariably do their rounds in hospitals. Still, his respect for the likes of McCaffrey is total.
“Yeah, it’s absolutely class what he’s done,” he says of the Clontarf phenom. “He obviously won five or six All-Irelands while still getting a degree and I don’t think he did the degree as slowly as me either, so yeah, he’s absolutely an inspiration!”
The academic research has always suggested that there is a strong link between high achievement with the books and the boots but that’s not to say that there aren’t challenges in juggling the needs of both at such a rarified level.
“Sometimes I feel like I am playing catch up [at Leinster] a little bit and I am kinda coming in and I’m wondering why I am so far behind,” says Murphy who made his senior debut in November 2017.
“But I think everyone actually feels like that and you feel like a bit of an imposter in medicine sometimes anyway if you are put on the spot and don’t know the answer.
“It is a good break from [the rugby] as well. Sometimes if you have a busy week in Leinster and you are playing a big game that weekend, it is tough to keep focused on the medicine because all of your focus is on that game.”
Last month’s Champions Cup game against Northampton was one such example. Murphy had an exam that week but played well and scored a try after being promoted to the XV late on. The next week was a case of playing catch-up with his sleep.
He’s 25 now and eight years into the studies. Player and club are well used to his unusual demands and, in Felipe Contepomi, he has a coach at the club who actually balanced his own playing days with Leinster with his medical studies at the Royal College of Surgeons.
“He put me at ease a bit, that it is possible to work around a rugby schedule, even though it is a different time in rugby and medicine.”
That includes the next step after graduation. A medical degree isn’t something you can stow in your pocket for a few years. It’s a starter kit that needs to be embellished all the time. How that fits in with a rugby career isn’t decided yet but he has spoken to people at UCD and in medicine about it.
The first priority on that side of the ledger is to actually get the scroll.
The pandemic has complicated the process of serving an apprenticeship in hospitals and, while there is an amount of autonomous learning that can make up for that, the only way to really learn is to walk the corridors.
“You go in and shadow an intern for a few weeks and learn the basic life support stuff. So if someone collapses in front of you, you know what to do which, for a young doctor, is to call for help off someone else!”
Add in a few finals and he will soon be done with his undergrad days but there is a sense that his career with Leinster is still only gathering pace. All but six of his 39 appearances have been as a starter but it’s instructive that only two of his caps have come in Europe.
He was going well this season until a niggly calf injury shunted him into neutral for a spell before the Connacht game earlier this month.
“Personally, it’s just constantly getting to actually play,” he said ahead of Leinster’s trip to Scarlets this weekend. “It probably took me a while to develop in Leinster and it’s just getting to play more and more games. The standard in Leinster has been so high this year, you just have to try and play your best every game you get a chance to.”