Sport

Ben Murray and Cathal O'Donovan hurl their way into Leitrim folklore

July 1st, 2019 5:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Argideen Rangers' Cathal O'Donovan, middle, and Balinascarthy's Ben Murray, right, celebrate with Paul Earley after Leitrim won the Lory Meagher Cup final against Lancashire at Croke Park. (Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile)

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BEN Murray is the Ballinascarthy hurler who scored a point for Leitrim in the Lory Meagher Cup final in Croke Park. 

It’s a moment that he won’t forget.

The game was 62 minutes old. Leitrim were down four points, 1-17 to 1-13. Lancashire had taken control of this game in the second half, rattling off seven points on the trot. Leitrim were rocking. They settled again but were playing catch-up coming down the home straight.

Then one of the two West Cork men on the team – Argideen Rangers’ Cathal O’Donovan started in the forwards along with Murray – saw a chance and took it.

‘The ball came in and our full forward, Clement Cunniffe, was about to pick it up but I snatched it out of his hands before he could get hold of it. I knew I had a little bit of time so I took an extra touch and sent it straight over the bar. It was a great feeling,’ Murray says.

Leitrim kept chipping away. They refused to give up. An injury-time goal from James Glancy earned them extra-time. It was 2-16 to 1-19. They took their chance and made it count in those extra 20 minutes to win 2-23 to 2-22.

Leitrim were champions and two Lory Meagher Cup medals were on their way to West Cork.

Ben Murray is a 21-year-old agricultural science student at UCD. He went on placement in Mohill in Leitrim in 2018. The locals found out he hurled back home.

‘Will you join us?’

‘Sure, why not.’

This is his second season with the county. But the Bal club man isn’t a trend-setter, though. Cathal O’Donovan from Argideen Rangers is in his third season with Leitrim. He’s also a UCD student, studying veterinary. On his Twitter bio, O’Donovan says he works hard and plays hard. Hopefully he celebrated hard after his role in Leitrim’s historic success.

This was the first time the county has ever won a national title at adult level. 

The Lory Meagher Cup is the fifth-highest inter-county senior hurling championship. 

O’Donovan was involved in 2017 when Leitrim lost the same final to Warickshire. Murray arrived on the scene last year when Leitrim were elevated to the Nicky Rackard Cup, but they were found wanting there and lost both group games by a combined 31 points.

‘We were out of our depth a small bit in the Nicky Rackard but we did get to the Division 3B league final last season where we lost to Lancashire after extra-time,’ Murray explains.

This season, back at Lory Meagher Cup level, they went where no Leitrim team had gone before.

‘How high is the standard? That’s a question that I get asked a lot,’ Murray says.

Another one is why does a West Cork man want to play for the Leitrim hurlers?

First, though, the standard of hurling.

‘It’s a hard one to answer because you have a mixture of hard-working hurlers and skilful hurlers in Leitrim. The impact of the hits and the intensity of the hurling is a lot higher than junior A in West Cork. If I had to put a grade on it, it’s probably around intermediate and premier intermediate standard here in Cork,’ the Bal man says.

Now, why does he play for Leitrim? 

‘It’s the chance to play inter-county hurling,’ he points out, ‘and to test myself at that level.

‘It’s no secret that I am more hurling than football. Hurling comes first for me so football has taken a bit of a hit this year.

‘It’s great to be able to hurl with both Bal and Leitrim, and I’m enjoying it.’

Murray feels Ballinascarthy, who have lost the last two Carbery JAHC finals, will feel the benefit of his inter-county adventures. 

‘Playing with Leitrim has definitely helped me get better. I’m not the biggest or the strongest in the world – but playing with Leitrim has made me hardier, I think. It’s tough hurling so that will help me with Bal.’

Murray wants to become the first man to win the Lory Meagher Cup and the Flyer Nyhan in the same year.

He has one box ticked.

Now he wants to help Ballinascarthy win the Carbery junior A championship.

He started in the half-forward line in the opening round win against Newcestown. His brother Luke was in midfield that day. Bal will be one of the main challengers to Kilbree this season.

‘We have lost the last two West Cork finals, narrowly last year to Kilbree and a by a few points the year before. Everyone is hoping that we take the next step and I don’t think we are that far away. It’s the next logical step that everyone is looking towards and I hope it happens soon,’ Murray says.

He’s home for the summer now. Home is Skeaf. That’s between Bandon, Bal and Timoleague, he explains. He’ll help out on the farm at home.

‘Is it a big farm?’ he was quizzed.

‘It’s a grand size farm,’ he replied.

During the inter-county season while he was in college at UCD, Leitrim training was held in Mullingar so the players from Dublin piled into cars midweek. He doesn’t have as far to travel for training this summer.

What the future holds for Bal’s Leitrim hurler, he doesn’t know whether he’ll be back there again. It depends on a few factors. Whatever happens, he’ll always have the memories of last Saturday. On the bus down Jones’ Road, driving in under Croke Park, running out onto the pitch, flicking the ball over the bar, seeing family and friends make the trip from home to support him, scoring a point in the final, celebrating with the cup.

‘It’s a weekend I’ll never forget. It was a brilliant experience and hopefully I’ll get back there again.’

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