BARRY Murphy says it was the period in his fledgling rugby career when he first realised he could make it in the professional game. St Munchin’s College’s Munster Schools Junior Cup campaign of 1998.
Barry Murphy had St Munchin’s College in his DNA - SMC to the core.
As he wandered through the corridors of the Corbally rugby nursery as an awe-struck first year, Murphy was taken by the framed photos on the school’s various Schools Cup winning teams on the wall.
Former Munster and Ireland centre Murphy recalled his school days: “The dream was to emulate the achievements of the guys in the Cup winning photographs in the school.
“My older brother (Barry) was playing Junior Cup in the year I came into the school. The dream was always to follow in his footsteps. You had ex-Munchin’s pupils Anthony Foley and Marcus Horan kicking on with Munster at that time as well.
“There was always great guys to look up to. It was always my dream to play for the school. Week one, it was straight down to the back pitches and it’s great the way you work your way up to the bigger pitches, the better pitches as the years pass by.
“Lunch time was spent playing rugby, playing tip in the yard. Rugby was always the best part of school for me.
“My dad (Michael) played with Bohs. We grew up in The Hermitage which is behind St Munchin’s College.
“I would have gone across town to Bohs when I was seven or eight. But we would always have been big Munchin’s fans. My dad went there too, played rugby there. We went along as kids to the schools matches.”
Murphy may have graduated to play more than 70 games for Munster, scoring stunning tries against Sale Sharks in the 2006 Heineken Cup, and most famously of all against the All-Blacks at Thomond Park in 2008, as well as earning four full Ireland caps, but he reveals that he had a real fight on his hands to make the starting line-up in St Munchin’s 1998 Junior Cup side.
Murphy said: “I was out of favour really coming close to the start of the Junior Cup in ‘98. I can’t remember why, but there was a fella being picked ahead of me.
“I didn’t think I would make the starting XV for the Cup. I put in a massive effort in a few ‘A’ matches before the Cup began. I played well and thankfully got the nod to start.
“It was a massive deal and with it massive pressure in the Cup. You are playing in front of big crowds. It was daunting. I wouldn’t have been one of the main guys in the team going into the Cup, but I ended up having a very good Cup run.
“I wouldn’t have seen professional rugby as an option for me probably until then. I realised in that Cup that I may have had something.”
St Munchin’s opened their Cup campaign with a quarter-final tie with Ardscoil Ris at Thomond Park.
“We beat Ardscoil quite well that day,” Murphy said.
“The other centre on the team, Eoin Kennedy was in his first season playing rugby. We convinced him to come out playing. You’d find lads in the school, who were really good at Gaelic football and hurling and you’d try and force them to play rugby! .
“Eoin Kennedy was the superstar on the team. He had trials with Nottingham Forest and was playing hurling for Limerick. He carved Ardscoil up that day.
“Our semi-final was a draw against CBC in Cork. They were the dream team for the whole thing. They hammered us a few times during the season.
“Eoin Nihill was our captain. He was phenomenal, a powerhouse, a real good carrier. He led from the front that day. Garrett Noonan was playing eight and he had a pretty big game that day. They missed a kick to win it.
“The replay was played a dirty wet evening in Thomond Park. We just played smart Limerick rugby, up the jumper stuff. We beat them up. Nihill and Kennedy were outstanding, both scored tries, I think. We won comfortably.
“We were very much the underdogs going into the final with Pres. We certainly weren’t cocky. We knew we were up against it. The extra game stood to us. We were up for it. The buzz in the school was phenomenal.”
But Murphy almost missed out on playing in the final against PBC after being involved in an unfortunate clash of heads with a team mate in the warm-up.
Murphy recalled: “In the warm-up I had a clash of heads with our winger Jamie Collins. The two of us were knocked out. He couldn’t play the game. Padraig O’Doherty started the game. I will never forget it.
“I felt so sorry for Jamie. I didn’t know if I would be able to start myself, but I ended up being grand. It was a tough one for Jamie, but we used it to spur us on. The coaches definitely used it.
“We beat them 7-5 on a dirty, wet day in Cork. Noel ‘Wirey’ Sexton was refereeing the game. He played about 10 minutes added time. We got one try in the first half. I made a break, threw a few dummies before his clever inside pass put Eoin Kennedy clear and he ran in under the posts. Brian Carroll kicked the conversion.
“Pres scored a try with a minute to go . They had a kick to level it and the conversion hit the upright. I couldn’t believe it was missed.
“Our supporters were behind the posts. My brother, my neighbours, our friends were going bananas. They were screaming at me. ‘Wirey’ blew it up and I was swallowed up in a sea of young lads. Everyone was singing our names.”