by Daragh Ó Conchúir
Is maol gualainn gan bhráthair.
So goes the seanfhocal that espouses the strengthening of a collective cause by the closeness of the relationships.
A shoulder without a friend is undefended.
In an era where so many talk of the rigour of involvement in sport at an elite level, it is nice to hear someone speak about the pure joy of actually participating in their chosen high-performance discipline and doing so in the company of people they love being around.
For Laura Murphy, that’s playing camogie with Kilkenny. A 26-year-old Irish and history teacher at St Colmcille’s Community School in Knocklyon, Co Dublin, Murphy is a dual Glen Dimplex All-Ireland champion with Kilkenny and there is no doubt that winning tends to make competing more fun.
But hers is not the story of pre-pubescent genius, of the neophyte bursting onto the scene while still at school and scaling the heights with each passing summer.
The O’Loughlin Gaels half-back/midfielder is an advertisement for perseverance, for maintaining a belief that continuing to work assiduously on self-improvement, shelving the disappointment of having a bit-part role at best and continuing the fight for a starting spot will pay dividends.
It might seem contradictory, but managers love players like that, even when they are not picking them. They ensure that standards are high because they keep those with a hold of the jersey to account.
There is another seanfhocal that goes, Is mór an luach é foighne, which translates roughly as Patience is a virtue. Murphy has illustrated this most underrated of quality without her fierce competitiveness ever being dulled.
It was 2020 when she started making some kind of breakthrough, coming on as a sub in the Covid All-Ireland final won by the Cats. She remained a contributor from the bench the following year. It wasn’t until the beginning of last year’s championship that Murphy finally got the nod to start. She would end by winning an All-Ireland on the pitch and collecting an All-Star.
There were, of course, times when Murphy was downbeat and wondered about her future. On those days where the questions drum loudest in your brain, your motivation needs to be strong and credible. Words like ‘sacrifice’ can’t be moping around, even sub-consciously.
So what sustained Murphy?
“It’s the girls either side of me when I go out on the pitch,” she declares. “You just want to give absolutely everything for them because you know they’re doing all they can to get us over the line and get us where we want to be, which is Croke Park on the first weekend of August. They want it just as much as you do and you want to give everything for them.
“Then there’s pride in the jersey, representing your club and your family.
“Number one thing then is just the enjoyment, the absolute craic that you have with the girls, whether it’s at training, before or after training, recovery sessions, all that stuff. I don’t think there’s anyone on the panel that doesn’t enjoy the company of the rest of the girls. That’s huge.
“The enjoyment is key. If you’re not enjoying it, you shouldn’t be doing it. The enjoyment that I personally get from it is unbelievable. The spirit within the group is hugely important. It’s one of the factors for success and I think… if you’re enjoying it on the pitch, you’ll see the results.”
There is no doubt that mental resolve is required however, something Murphy clearly possesses in volumes.
“Everyone wants to have a starting jersey. Once you have it then, you can’t let it go. It can be difficult on the days you feel like you have a lot to offer. But there’s no one on the panel that doesn’t have something to offer. You just have to be patient and you have to have the right mindset to know, if you come in off the bench, what have you to offer? Can you finish this off? Can you help the team get over the line? Once you have that mindset, things start to go well and you never know what could happen or where you’ll end up.”
At awards ceremonies being presented with an All-Ireland medal and an All-Star if you’re Laura Murphy.
A proud gaeilgeoir who reports an increasing appetite among the youth of today to learn our native language judging from her classroom experiences, she is the ideal role model for newcomers to Brian Dowling’s squad this season and indeed everyone fighting tooth and nail for a spot, including her own.
“There is no other feeling like it,” she says of the emotions that envelop you when the final whistle is blown in an All-Ireland final and you’re on the winning team. “You’re so happy for yourself, but for your teammates, your management, your family, your club. It just means so much to so many people and that sense of achievement is incredible.”
But that is the past now. The National League got off to a ropey start but finished well with a defeat of Tipperary to deny the neighbours a place in the Division 1 decider. They have since chiselled out a hard-earned victory over Dublin in the Leinster final.
The Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Championship gets under way today, though the champions won’t start their Group 2 campaign until next week, with Wexford, Dublin and Tipperary providing the opposition.
The heat, hard ground and incessant action will put an even greater premium on panel depth, she suspects and the loss of player of the year Miriam Walsh (cruciate) and Mary O’Connell (travelling) is significant. But they got a hold of the O’Duffy Cup despite the cruciate curse striking Kellyann Doyle and her sister Aoife, and they are back in the fold now.
Either way, Murphy predicts a torrid battle if Kilkenny are to scale their Everest once more.
“The standard is just through the roof this year. Clare, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Dublin – we had extremely tough matches against all of them. The standard has been brought to another level. We can expect the same from Wexford.
“There’s no doubt it’s a blow to be missing players. Miriam was in the form of her life and was such a target for us. But it’s an opportunity for other players. There’s so many new, young faces coming through. It’s great to have Jenny Clifford back. Then the likes of Asha McHardy has come in and is absolutely flying. We’ve the intermediate panel as well so there’s an awful lot of pressure on for places. The girls are always pushing us in training and Brian always says it, you need finishers. You need people coming off the bench and you’ll struggle to go far in the championship without 30 girls.
“Brian and the lads are very fair. They always say that you have to bide your time and stay putting it in and if it’s happening for you on the training pitch, you’ll get your opportunity out on the field. You never know, girls can dip in and out of form or there could be an injury or someone could be sick. That’s when your chance comes and you have to be able to take it when the opportunity arises.”
Nobody knows that better.