An officer and a gentleman! The four-time All-Star senior hurler and Lieutenant Paul Murphy needs no introduction here in Kilkenny. I got to catch up with our local hero to chat about his recent overseas trip in South Lebanon.
A proud Danesfort man, the 31 year old right corner back took up hurling at the age of four, when he played for the Under-9s team in Danesfort. The keen four year old had to start somewhere and back then, the Under-9s was as young as it got for club hurling.
Paul went on from Danesfort Primary School to Scoil Aireagail in Ballyhale. He first played for Kilkenny as a member of the minor team during the 2006 Leinster Championship and made his first appearance on the senior team in 2009.
For the day job, he initially considered joining the Gardaí but opted instead for The Irish Defence Forces. That was 12 years ago and today we salute him as Lieutenant Paul Murphy, who has just completed his third peace-keeping tour.
In July Paul returned home from the Lebanon, with his desire and appetite for hurling to return never more palpable. He is back with his home club Danesfort, and delighted to play competitive hurling again, even if it is behind closed doors.
Here is a glimpse into Paul’s world…
The Irish convoy that you were recently part of in South Lebanon were due back in May from your UN peacekeeping tour of duty. Unfortunately Covid-19 put a delay on your return home.
Yes we were due to go from November to May and unfortunately as the world changed and Covid came in we were extended until July. At the time we didn’t know when we would be extended until, the dates changed a few times. Finally and thankfully we came home on July 2.
What did you do the whole time you were in lockdown in a military base?
Once we knew Covid was a factor, we went into lockdown quite early on and reacted very quickly to it. That stood to us in the long run. From there we were able to put our own procedures in place and mitigate against the threat of Covid.
Our patrols did continue, but in the sense that we weren’t mixing with locals. We didn’t get out of our vehicles and we didn’t mix with the Lebanese Army. Once you left the camp in your vehicle, you stayed in your vehicle, with full PPE and masks, until you returned four or five hours later.
We had to keep that footprint on the ground out there, but also at the same time to keep our distance from locals. We were conscious about keeping the locals at ease, and reassure them that we are not going to bring Covid-19 into their communities.
A big part of the Irish troop’s job overseas is to sustain 60 years of unbroken service to peace in conflict zones. What do you, as an officer, have to do?
On previous trips as a Corporal I was very much on patrol, which meant being on the ground, patrolling through the villages and working with the Lebanese Army.
This time, I was an Operations Officer with the 115 Battalion overseas service and pretty much at the other side of the table, co-ordinating all the operations. We would figure out where we would send the patrols and what they would be doing. As well as monitoring feedback that we were receiving through the towns and villages. Making sure they were hitting the targets of the amount of patrols that we were supposed to do each day, week and month.
You’ve been to Chad in 2009 and Lebanon in 2017 and 2019. Does it get any easier?
Each mission is different. Chad was a very hard trip, in the sense that it was going back to the old days of one or two phone calls a week. You also had to book in to get the phone call, it wasn’t a case that everyone had Wi-Fi. Whereas in the Lebanon you have Wi-Fi, you can make calls and it makes it a lot easier.
As soldiers go on and get married and have kids the trips get a little bit harder. It doesn’t get easier, but once you get a bit more street smart, it helps.
How does it affect your mental well-being - spending Christmas and lockdown in a conflict zone?
The uncertainty was the biggest part for troops out there; nobody saw this coming. When we were told that we would not be going home, people’s mindsets started to change and we asked ourselves ‘what is the situation?’. We realised fairly quickly that if anything did unfortunately happen at home, we wouldn’t be returning. So if a loved one got sick, we weren’t coming home. As soldiers we had to think about that.
Our families were brilliant as they always are and thankfully supported us through that. It was a challenging time for soldiers, especially if you have small kids at home. You see yourself as the person that has to be there, to protect the family and if you are not there, it’s tough.
You also kept up the bit of hurling too and your strength and conditioning for the Kilkenny squad?
Long before we had left we had plans for that put into motion. The hurls and the balls were sent out ahead of us in baggage. We also had our programmes from our strength and conditioning coaches. There was other lads there from other teams and everybody had their own instructions.
We didn’t have a hurling pitch, so we had to get a bit creative, especially with our interval and longer runs. We had good structure to our training, but there were days that work would get in the way and you couldn’t get out for your run. Work had to come first and that was just the nature of things. We did get great training in, we slept well and we ate well!
What was the diet and food like overseas?
We had great cooks, who had to cook for 500 people over there. There’s no special requests but if you are vegetarian they can cater for them. You had to get into the mindset that you couldn’t just pick what you were going to eat every day. You walked into the cookhouse and had to pick from a few selections. In fairness, the food was excellent!
When you were originally supposed to return in May, Kilkenny were due to play in a championship match that very weekend. The cancellation of games since Covid has giving you a bit of a silver lining!
When (Shamrocks and fellow Kilkenny player) Richie Reid and I were leaving on this trip, we knew that we would be coming home around the time that Kilkenny were starting in the championships. Being realistic, we were not going to walk back into a set-up. Nobody does, especially the Kilkenny set-up!
You need a few weeks to condition to be sharp back on a pitch and to being match-fit again. I suppose the silver lining for us is that Covid knocked everything back. So realistically once that happened we said that we were in no rush back here for any hurling matches. We also got a few weeks back with the club and after a lot of training and matches we are set in the perfect condition for a Kilkenny return in September.
What was your favourite match to play in?
It’s hard to pick between the club and the county, but my favourite match with the club was the junior county final in 2006. It was a massive day as our club as Danesfort hadn’t won a junior championship in about 70 years! We had been a junior club as long as I had known, even as long as my father was alive, so it was a very important day for our parish.
We have won the intermediate championship since but I still think the junior was huge for us. Especially shaking off that ghost meant we could go forward and enjoy intermediate and the senior grade, which we are in now.
Another match that was very special was when Kilkenny played Tipperary in Nowlan Park in the championship in 2013. It was a Saturday summer’s evening in Nowlan Park and you don’t always get to play a championship match in Nowlan Park, so it was brilliant.
The place was wedged, you couldn’t get a ticket for it all week and I think the crowds were there about two to three hours before hand. We went in with people expecting us to be beaten and we won! It was just a great evening - what you play inter-county for.
You can follow Paul on twitter @paulmurphykk. For careers in the Irish Defence Forces visit https://military.ie.