How football gave Ruairí Murphy his confidence back

The 41-year-old Cork City player is in Turkey with the Irish amputee football team who today begin their World Cup campaign against Morocco
How football gave Ruairí Murphy his confidence back

WORLD CUP: Members of the Cork City FC amputee team who will represent Ireland at the Amputee Football World Cup beginning today. Back row (left to right): David White, Patrick Hickey, Sean Óg Murphy, Fergal Duffy, Daire Coughlan (staff). Front row (left to right): Kevan O'Rourke, Ruairi Murphy.

Ruairí Murphy refused to wear a pair of shorts in public for the best part of 10 years. No exceptions.

Sun holidays meant the booking of private accommodation so he could lie by a pool in isolated comfort and not be worrying about a single stranger staring at him.

Nowadays, Ruairí Murphy is never not in a pair of shorts. Who is or isn’t looking at him, he couldn’t care less.

Murphy takes our Thursday morning call from Istanbul. The 41-year-old is in Turkey with the Irish amputee football team who today begin their World Cup campaign against Morocco.

It is his second World Cup, having been part of the Irish team that finished 13th at the 2018 edition in Mexico.

The Rochestown man’s involvement in Mexico was noteworthy for the fact that he had taken up amputee football just a year earlier, but this story - his story - starts several years before that.

December 2005: Murphy is on a construction site on Monahan Road in Cork city when life deals him an unexpected hand.

“I went out to do a job and the job went wrong,” Murphy recalls.

Having become trapped between the front wheel and arm of a bucket loader, Murphy’s left leg was crushed by the bucket.

For an hour he lay in that position before being extricated by the fire services, excruciating pain eventually giving way to numbed shock.

“I just remember feeling so stuck.” 

Rushed to CUH, he was informed that his left leg was likely beyond saving. And true to the surgeon’s word, when Murphy came to post-op, there was nothing there below his left knee.

“When something like that happens, you can either dwell on it and go backwards, or try and be positive and move on.

“There was no point in feeling sorry for myself. At the end of the day, I could have been killed. What happened was probably the best outcome of a very bad situation.” 

His right leg hadn’t been spared under the bucket loader and so six weeks of physio was required to return full power to his one remaining leg. Thereafter, he was fitted for a prosthetic.

“As anyone with a prosthetic will know, it is a very slow process. Starting off, I could only wear it for five minutes at a time and slowly built it up to the point where I could leave it on for an hour and start to walk around with it. That provided a focus and something to drive for, that every day I was looking forward to walking a little bit further.” 

But just as he conquered one hurdle, another presented itself. The challenge this time was psychological rather than physical.

Murphy developed a determination to keep his prosthetic hidden. It meant not mentioning his accident among strangers, it meant forcibly walking without any semblance of a limp in the early days of the fitting, and it meant not wearing shorts for nigh on a decade.

“There was a lack of confidence and self-esteem. I didn’t wear shorts for the longest time because I didn’t want to draw attention to it.

“In 2009, my wife and I went on holidays to Lanzarote. But rather than stay in a hotel where there is a communal pool, we rented our own villa with its own small pool just so no one would see me.

“I was conscious that because I’d be in the sun, I would be taking my leg off. This sounds stupid, but at the time you’re thinking to yourself that I don’t want to be the freakshow at the swimming pool. That’s how I was feeling at the time.” 

Back to 2017.

Ruairí had seen a promo poster for amputee football at a prosthetic clinic. His interest was piqued. Further information was sought.

Cork City FC and Irish international David Saunders brought him along to an Irish training session in Limerick. Murphy’s expectations were minimal. Lads kicking a ball around on crutches sounded too good to be true.

“I was picturing it being like walking football. But when I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. The fellas were super fit, proper footballers.” 

Murphy himself had played for Douglas Hall in his youth, but his dedication and discipline had slipped into his twenties. Amputee football offered a road back.

Cork City, Bohemians, and Shamrock Rovers are the three Irish clubs who field amputee teams, with a Scottish amputee selection completing the four-team League of Ireland line-up.

The domestic league is five-a-side, whereas international fare is seven-a-side. Those who play outfield do so on crutches and without their prosthetic, whereas the goalkeeper is someone who has lost an arm rather than a leg and so can stand unsupported.

League games take place at venues all over the country so as to bring the sport to the attention of amputees who may not know of its existence.

The pinnacle is to wear the green shirt at the World Cup, but the importance of the game goes way beyond the competitive outlet it offers.

“It is an opportunity to feel comfortable because everyone is in the same position as you, same background, and everyone looks the same as you. You don’t feel like an outsider.

“This sport helped massively with my confidence. If I am comfortable walking around with my leg out with people who are like me, then eventually you will say to yourself, there is nothing to hide here, and that transferred over to my everyday life where I am never out of a pair of shorts these days.

“I know that if the accident hadn’t happened then I would never have had this opportunity to do what I am doing and represent Ireland at the World Cup. Sometimes I think, would I trade back, and sometimes I think I probably wouldn’t.

“When something really bad does happen to you, there are opportunities out there to not just have a normal life, but to have a better life. That’s so important to know, especially for parents who are thinking, oh my god my child has lost their leg. It’s not the end of the world.” 

Ruairí Murphy and his Irish teammates are proof plenty.

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