Cork captain and goalkeeper Aoife Murray is the voice of experience and her role will be crucial in Sunday’s final. DENIS HURLEY sat down with the Cloughduv woman for a wide-ranging chat ahead of the game
WHILE she will be the first in the parade leading Cork around Croke Park next Sunday – and hopefully accepting the O’Duffy Cup in the Hogan Stand afterwards – Aoife Murray arrived at the end of a long line of children.
A sister of Rebels manager Paudie, Aoife has been learning the art of sport since the very beginning.
‘There are 11 of us,’ she says.
‘I’m the youngest – I was born on Paudie’s first day of secondary school – and Mary, the eldest, is 15 years older than me.
‘No twins either, a few Irish twins alright – Paudie and my sister Deirdre are the same age for a month!
‘It was great, they were all in their teens when I was growing up so I got to go to all of the matches, I was always just thrown into the car and taken anywhere.
‘They were great to me, they would bring me to everything. That was probably the best grounding or education in hurling I could have got.’
And, just like she was thrown into the car, was she thrown into goal too?
‘Paudie always says that they were short a goalkeeper when they’d come home from Farranferris at the weekends and they’d throw me into goal to play a match.
‘How true that is, I’ve no idea but it sounds like something they would do to me! I think that’s how it started.
‘I tipped away with the club outfield but John Cronin had his eye on me for goals, he told my dad when I was about seven, “She’ll be a goalkeeper.”
‘To be fair, he stuck with me and, as long as John Cronin was around, I was never going to play anywhere else.’
The trajectory has always been upwards
‘We had a brilliant minor team, we won two All-Irelands in a row with John Cronin as manager,’ Murray says.
‘That was the heart of our team, we won junior when I was a minor and then went on and won intermediate the year after and a lot of us went on to senior, that group grew up together, the likes of Joanne O’Callaghan, Jenny O’Leary, Emer Dillon, Gemma O’Connor, all those girls.’
A senior panellist with 16 years, Murray first played in the All-Ireland final in 2004, losing to Tipperary, before Cork won the next two. She has seen a lot of changes to the role in that time.
‘When I came on in 2002, there was myself, Ger Casey and Cora Keohane and we’d have done our own training, the three of us together.
‘Even as an 18-year-old, I was annoyed by that – we’re not meant to be coaches and we’re all fighting for the one spot, so I found that a bit bananas.
‘As I got older, I maybe demanded a bit more and, to be fair, when John Cronin took over, he made sure that I always got some individual coaching.
‘When Denise Cronin took over, she made sure I had a goalie coach and I had to have one in Dublin, which is Declan Powell from St Brigid’s in Blanchardstown. I used to do one-to-ones with him the whole time, which you need because goalkeeper is such a lonely spot at times.’
Talking to her defence during the games helps to alleviate that solitude, and she feels that being vocal has been a help to her this year as captain.
‘I think goalkeepers are naturally talkers, we have to be,’ she says.
‘We will probably say the hard things when they need to be said.
‘I think being a goalkeeper has helped me greatly with the role of captaincy, but, to be fair, I’ve always been a talker in the dressing room.
‘I’ve always given out when someone needs to be given out to or give praise when it’s due, but it’s an easy job for me when you’ve girls who are all natural leaders and want to be leaders.
‘The best thing about this year is seeing some of the younger girls step up and really become leaders.’
Of course, it’s a slightly different dynamic to a normal manager/captain relationship, given that the boss is her brother.
‘It’s a funny one because we’d be at loggerheads quite a lot,’ she says, ‘but, at the same time, I think he’d appreciate if I did come to him with a genuine concern.
‘I think that’s a positive of having that brother-and-sister relationship, I wouldn’t just be coming to him with something for the sake of it.
‘He’d also understand that I’d have a good reading of a situation, so that helps us massively.’
She’s certainly glad to be involved, having opted to end a brief retirement two and a half years ago. As an ambassador for the Camogie Association’s link-up with ChildFund Ireland, she visited Ethiopia with Wexford goalkeeper Mags Darcy and that trip helped her to reconsider.
‘I had a nasty back injury and I was told that was it,’ she says.
‘I came back and I did my rehab and we won the All-Ireland in 2015 and I was thinking, “I’ve got what I could out of this, I’ll go now.”
‘Then, I went and did that charity trip in Ethiopia and I was wondering why I was throwing away such a wonderful opportunity, that there was so much more to life – to me, camogie was what was more to life – so that’s why I went back.
‘We didn’t win [in 2016], but I was so proud to have made the decision and three years later we’re still here and ready to give it a hundred percent.’
Away from camogie, Aoife works as a portfolio manager with Fine Grain Property, though beyond that there isn’t time for much else.
‘At the moment, it’s just work and camogie,’ she says.
‘I always keep promising my partner that there will be a winter there – but, please God if we win, the winter will be busy with camogie stuff!
‘It’s all I know and, anyone who’s in my life knows that. Come September, I’ll have to reintroduce myself to my circle of friends again and hopefully they’ll take me back. It gets to the stage where they just forget to invite you to stuff because they know that you’re not going to be able to go!
‘I have not made a single sacrifice to play this game – it’s the people around you who make the sacrifices, your family, your loved ones, your partners, your friends.
‘They’re getting the sacrifices and hopefully getting a good sunny out of it with regard to us achieving, whereas we’re getting every single training session and matches, we’re getting so much more out of it.’