By Daragh Ó Conchúir
It is more than a decade since Doireann Murphy was crowed a world champion and she has a couple of All-Ireland medals rattling around in her pocket already.
But if Clare beat Cork at Cusack Park today (3pm – live on the Camogie Association’s YouTube channel) to supplant the Rebels as likely runners-up in Group 1 of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Championship and seal a coveted berth among the last six standing, it will rank up there with anything she has been involved in.
Murphy is a top-class goalkeeper who earned the rare (if not unique) distinction for a netminder of being named Munster’s senior player of the year last December.
The Clarecastle custodian earned widespread plaudits when saving penalties in consecutive provincial championship games last year as the Bannerwomen reached the decider. The stop against Tipperary in the semi-final (above, photographed by Mike Ryan) was particularly brilliant.
And while she modestly attributes her propensity for overcoming the odds faced with a placed ball one-on-one to “a lot of luck”, there is more to it than that.
Murphy herself will concede that her experience as an outfield player helpful in being able to read where a shot is intended for. But perhaps most useful are the skills honed in the handball alley. Clare is a hotbed of one of the lesser heralded Gaelic games. The legendary Kirbys were from this neck of the woods originally. Diarmuid Nash and Colin Crehan are two of the country’s top-ranked contemporary players.
Current Banner hurler Mark Rodgers was an underage star. Further afield, Kilkenny tyro Billy Drennan was an elite operator too. But like Murphy, who won her World Championship in 2012 in the U13 doubles category alongside Ella Donnellan before securing All-Ireland minor (2015) and intermediate (2019) doubles crowns with Clodagh Nash, they could not combine the two at a high-performance level.
“If I was playing intermediate handball I could manage it but it’s just not feasible to play the two at senior,” says Murphy with an obvious hint of regret.
“We’re camogie training four or five nights a week and if you want to be competitive at senior handball, you’d have to be giving the same time into that, with the training and the gym work on top of that. It just wouldn’t work but it’s something I’d love to get back into. I loved it when I was younger and it definitely has its benefits for camogie, especially the hand-eye co-ordination and footwork. Reactions would be another major one, especially in goals.”
An Irish and PE teacher at Presentation College in Athenry alongside Sarsfields and Galway player Maria Cooney, Murphy, who has also won county championships with the big ball for her club, was actually selected on the Clare camogie first as a forward.
But having dabbled at goalkeeping in her mid-teens for the club and taken the jersey one year at UL, she decided to focus more permanently on the role when the restrictions imposed by Covid-19 made maintaining fitness levels more challenging.
She still plays out the field for Clarecastle, enjoying that immensely. It also complements her county position. The fundamentals, she explains, are the same. Control and catch the sliotar. Strike it well for puckouts. Shot stopping is different and required a lot of practice but her rationale is that nobody expects you to save a one-on-one so there’s no pressure there. A strong mentality is vital, however.
“If you’re out the field and you drop the ball or the control goes behind you, no one notices, it goes into a ruck and you fight away, whereas if it happens in goals it goes into the back of the net unfortunately. But there’s absolutely no point being down about it, or saying, ‘Aw, I should have saved it,’ because you’ve no choice but to puck out the ball. So you tend to try to leave it there the best you can.”
Communication is integral too. There is a reason analysts use a camera placed behind the goals to do their job.
“As a goalie you can see everything on the field and it’s nearly more about watching players a lot of the time than watching the ball. It’s very important to talk and tell players where to go.”
The 24-year-old (she will be 25 in November) admits that it has been a funny sort of a season for Clare, but they beat Galway in the Very League, reached another Munster final and followed their opening round victory over Down in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Championship with a one-goal defeat to League champions Galway in Ennis to confirm their feeling that they are coming to the boil.
“At the start of the year our goal in the League would have always been to retain our status in Division 1 which we did do but we probably would have liked to be a bit more comfortable up there at the same time.
“Going into the Munster Championship our main goal was to try to get back to the Munster final. Obviously we would have looked to go one step further this year and win it but on the day, Tipp were on another level to us. They were absolutely exceptional.
“We were lucky that between the Munster Championship and All-Ireland, there wasn’t a huge break so there was no time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. It was back to work straight away. We trained hard. We played Wexford in a challenge and we played Offaly in a challenge and built a bit of momentum going into the Championship.
“The first match we’d to go up to Down. It’s very hard going up there but we were lucky we came out of there with the win. We probably made hard work of it – could have been a bit more comfortable – but the main thing was we got the win coming home.
“Then we were facing into Galway, who are looked at as the top team or in the top two in the country at the moment. We put it up to them, we lost by three points in the end. It probably could have gone either way, we were unlucky but at least we’re into the last game with it now all to play for and still in our own hands.”
And it’s a familiar foe standing in the way of quarter-final qualification for John Carmody’s squad.
“We’ve played Cork a good bit over the last few years. A lot of their game is based around runners so it’ll be trying to stop those runs further out of the field. If it gets in past the 45 it’s nearly too late. They need to be stopped in their wing-back line so it’ll take a massive work rate in around that middle third.
“If a girl is wrecked after 40 minutes, it’ll probably mean she has her job done and if she has to come off then, we have players to come on. Hopefully we can pull it out of the bag.”