From as far back as I can remember, people were speaking of a superb amateur football talent called Mick Murphy.
Even now, when one mentions Highview Athletic, it is a pound to a pinch of snuff that the name Mick Murphy will be injected into the conversation - if not in the first sentence, most definitely somewhere in the second.
We went down to Barrow-side to meet with him. On a personal note, I would not have been in contact since the halcyon days of Callan United and Highview. It was good to touch base with one of the best centre-forwards ever to grace the soccer scene in Kilkenny. I remembered Mick Murphy with Highview, as he tore opposing defences (and most nets) to shreds. I remember him with a bushy head of black hair crashing around on the top of his head like a mid-Atlantic storm. I remembered reading somewhere that he scored well in excess of 100 goals for Highview over his years with them.
The bushy hair may be a memory, but when you look at a team picture that included the likes of Tommy Malone, Ger Kavanagh, Liam Cody, Liam Reddy, Dicko Foley and Peter Pender, you recall how their influences were abundantly prevalent around the soccer pitches of the country.
My opening ‘get-it-out-of-the-way’ sentence ran, “who got you interested in the game when you were able to walk around Graignamanagh?”
“Sure I wasn’t born in Graig at all. I’m a Dub, and proud of it,” he smiled, probably at my misinformed faux-pas.
So Mick, where did you learn your football?
“Actually my first few years were spent in Leicester, having emigrated with my mother and father,” he recalled. “I never settled over there, and when I came home on holidays to my Granny one year (I was 16 years old), I refused to go back. I lived with my Granny for a few years, before cutting out on my own.
“I played from my earliest days in Dublin with Bluebell United. It was there, with their tremendous organisation and coaching system, that my game improved considerably”, he stated.
An iconic amateur outfit at the highest level, I remarked.
“With Home Farm, they would have been tremendous soccer nurseries in the Leinster area. There was plenty of League of Ireland clubs visible at all of the games played by Home Farm and Bluebell scouting for talent. It was a great place to be as a young player.
So how or why Graignamanagh?
“I was employed by John Sisk, and I was moved to Kilkenny in 1969 to build the Newpark Close houses,” he said. “They were flat-roofed houses at the time. When we finished in Kilkenny, we were moved down to Graignamanagh around 1971 to build a similar project where I am now living. They were flat-roofed also at the time, but now as you can observe they are conventional A-roof houses.”
Did you play with a Kilkenny club when first you arrived?
“No, I just stayed playing with Bluebell,” he said. “I really was not that interested in playing in Kilkenny. I knew nothing about Kilkenny football, and I loved playing with the lads in Dublin.”
So, how did the relationship with Highview take root?
“When I came to Graignamanagh first, I stopped with Mick Carey. He was heavily involved with Highview and when he heard that I was playing with Bluebell, he mentioned to the lads here - they offered me a trial. Now in all honesty, I thought that this Highview outfit was something special, and even though I was playing in a far higher level of competition with Bluebell, they still insisted on a trial. When I think back on it even now I tend to have a little smile,” he told us.
However he soon felt the welcome of the Graignamanagh club and people. His friendship with the likes of Carey, Paul Hickey, Dicko Foley and others has stood the test of time. He had never heard of the Kilkenny and District League, not even when he was working in Kilkenny City. He went back to his beloved Bluebell at the weekends completely oblivious to the existence of the Kilkenny League.
On his relocating to Graignamanagh, and his new workplace, Mick Murphy involved himself in the local club, but he also found time to get back to Bluebell for a number of years as well. Eventually, Cupid came knocking on his door, and he tied the knot with a local beauty, Rose Prendergast, with whom he raised four daughters Yvonne, Avril, Ciara and Roisin.
“The thing about marrying a local girl in Graignamanagh is that immediately your family tree expands at an enormous rate - suddenly you are related and connected to half the town!” smiled Mick.
Was he impressed with the local standards in the football game, relative to what he had been used to in Dublin?
“The standards were quite good really. As far as I can remember, the local game hadn’t expanded that much at the time. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that there was only one division in the Kilkenny League in my time. There were some excellent teams around. It was always difficult to beat the likes of Evergreen, Freebooters, EMFA, Cahir Park, Peake Villa (Thurles), Bagenalstown, and even your own club (Callan United). We hated going to Callan, and we were not the only ones”.
Graignamanagh had won the Shield just before Mick Murphy hitched his wagon onto their engine. His first memories of players encompassed lads like Peter Pender, and his brother Tommy - later to become his brother-in-laws. The earlier Highview lads he remembers even now, over 38 years ago, would be Liam Cody, Pat Kavanagh, Ger Kavanagh (“He played centre forward. We called him Toshack after the great Liverpool goal machine,” said Mick).
Dicko Foley, Sean Holden, and Paul Hickey were there too, but one player who really impressed the new recruit was a lad by the name of Tommy Malone from Inistioge.
“He was so exciting. He could do just about anything with a ball. He was as fast and strong. He was outstanding, but the problem we had with Tommy was that he was also on the Kilkenny senior hurling panel, and we were not always sure of when he might be available. But he was a prodigious talent.”
The quality of the equipment in those times was positively archaic.
“There were no fancy boots that time,” he recalled. “When you look at the colours they now have on boots it is amazing. We had rough kind of pigskin boots, which were invariably held together with old insulation black tar tape. The one pair of boots would get you through at least four seasons.
“And then we would have a football that would be pumped as hard as bell metal. It was tied together with a leather lace, generally misshapen. Boys, when that got wet, and it hit you in the stomach or the face it could do you a serious damage. We might have two footballs a year. We would have one good one for match day, and the training ball which would be the match ball from the previous season. Times were tough, and money was scarce, and new balls were very far down the pecking order of necessity,” said the Highview sharpshooter.
He abhors the antics of players now.
“I hate watching some of the ducking and diving that has come into the modern game, even at local amateur levels. The idea that you would do your best to get a fellow player sent off does not rest too easily on my shoulders,” he said. “It’s shocking the way the pros roll around the place as if they had been executed. Do they not realise the example they are giving to youngsters who are hugely impressionable, who think that is what is required. It kills me to watch it.”
Mick Murphy is convinced even to this day that his Highview team should have won far more than they actually did.
“In 1973 we won the Shield, beating Spa United 4-2 or so, and we should have won more,” he said. “We did the League/Shield double in 1976. Our team was a very good one in those days, and we were a match for more than most. In addition, three of us were on the Oscar Traynor team that won the trophy for the first time in the history of the Kilkenny and District League. Liam Reddy, Tommy Kinsella and I played every game in that tournament. That was a great year for us, and our club,” Maestro Murphy said.
Enter the manager of that historic Oscar Traynor winning outfit, Ber Scott - no mean player in his time.
“Mick Murphy was central to the success, an historic success may I add, to the winning of that Oscar Traynor competition,” Ber recalled. “Putting the cart before the horse, I well remember that day of the final when we played a very highly rated Dublin Amateur League side. I thought that we had the best side we ever had going into this Oscar Traynor competition.
“Anyway, the day of the final, the Dubs hit us for an early goal, and I remember on the sideline that day wondering where the equaliser might come from. Up came Mick Murphy with an answer to my doubts with a typical sniffers goal, a real Jimmy Greaves-type goal. Picked the ball up outside the area, sliced his way through the Dublin defence and slotted it to the bottom right corner for a fabulous goal before Charlie Gaule got the winner.
“Mick Murphy was a specialist for me,” Ber added. “I have expressed the opinion about a few over the years that would have tied down a good living in football if they had gone over the water, and I honestly feel that Mick Murphy was one such player.
A great player
“He was a great player whose qualities included leadership, goal-scoring, passion for the game, an unrivalled team ethic, and a superb athlete,” the manager recalled. “He also possessed a wonderful attitude. That was a magnificent bunch of players in every sense. I mean Paudie Lannon surely would have carved a very profitable football career for himself if he had a mind to, but he was on the Kilkenny hurling team, and that is what he wanted to do.
“That team competed in the National League Cup competition, as a result of their Oscar Traynor win, and they competed with a great distinction. We beat Cork Celtic in Buckley Park 3-2, were beaten by Waterford 5-3 in Kilcohan (Paudie Lannon scored all three), but we were beaten by Cobh Ramblers in the third game 1-0. That finished our interest, but it was great while it lasted for a great team of men.”
One remembers names like Luke Connery, Tommy Gaffney, Noel Jordan, Chris Bateman, John Geoghegan, Liam Reddy, Pat ‘Rusty’ Scanlon, Charlie Gaule, Tommy Kinsella, Paudie Lannon, Mick Murphy. A superb team of great talent. Add in Jim McEvoy, who broke his leg in an earlier round, and believe me you had a serious team of football players.
Mick Murphy enjoyed longevity in the game he loved, longer than most others would expect. He retired at the age of 39, but the truth be known, but for a very serious leg injury, it is quite conceivable that he would have continued well into his 40s.
“I broke my leg in four places in a game against Jerpoint Forest - that probably finished me,” he said. “I well remember the occasion when I went down. The referee Michael Keogh, a Dub living in Kilkenny, came over to me as I was writhing on the ground. I was in a bad state, and he looked down at me and said ‘that looks bad, I think I’ll call off the match’. Only for I was in such pain I would have laughed in his face!” he said, wincing as the memory came flooding back.
Mick and Rose’s house is now emptied like most families of their times but while their children may have moved out Mick tells me that he regularly visits with his grandsons.
“The eldest lad Jack (Mullan) is a good prospect. He plays with Forth Celtic in Wexford, as does his brother, Conor. I think they have good skill even now at a very early age,” said an obviously doting Grandad.
I heard of the time when Mick would play with Bluebell on a Saturday, travel back to Kilkenny for a game with Highview on a Sunday.
His mode of transport? A Henkel scooter! It took three hours one way.
Believe it or not!
On one occasion he was beaten in the McCalmont Cup by Mooncoin on a Sunday afternoon. He then got on his scooter, travelled to Inchicore, won the prestigious Vaughan Cup Final with Bluebell at 8pm and returned to Graig after the game. What could you say about dedication like that?
He would name Pat Mulcahy (Freebooters) as one of his toughest opponents. Chris Bateman too would figure on that toughest list, as would John Geoghegan and John Mulcahy. He would rate the winning of the Oscar Traynor as the pinnacle of his long career, a career that he would not alter for a single moment.
Mick plays a handy game of golf, being a 12-handicap member at Borris Golf Club. He is one of the rare people that we have met who still takes an avid interest in the game of cricket (“It is a terrifically skilful game,” he said. “I love watching the limited overs game”).
Mick Murphy was a rare talent in the soccer scene in Kilkenny. It was not easy for a Dub to come to Kilkenny, carve a niche for himself in the local football scene and compete with such a spirit, and passion that was difficult to suppress, or ignore.
Even though after all of those years, even though he still has a very pronounced Dublin accent, Mick Murphy will forever be synonymous with the story of soccer in the Graignamanagh parish.