This article is part of a series of feature interviews prepared for the Dublin Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association ahead of their All Ireland 2016 final with Cork.
Last year, Deirdre Murphy stepped away from the Dublin senior football team to head to Chicago on a J1, returning just in time to watch her teammates in the county side lose out 0-12 to 0-10 in the final against an all-conquering Cork.
It’s another Croke Park experience that has long formed part of Murphy’s footballing motivation, though, a moment that’s stuck with her throughout her playing career. As captain of Dublin’s All Ireland-winning under-16 side in 2010, Murphy and her side were invited to parade their trophy around the pitch at HQ ahead of the senior final.
After soaking up the applause, Murphy took her seat to watch Dublin win their first (and to date, their only) All Ireland ladies’ football title, hammering Tyrone 3-16 to 0-9 to end five years of Cork dominance. “I remember watching Denise Masterson lift the All Ireland trophy, and thinking ‘that’s going to be my one day,” Murphy said of the day.
Four years later, Murphy was to start on the bench as Dublin built a substantial lead over Cork in the senior final, only to throw it away in the dying stages. This year, having established herself as a starter following her return from that summer J1 in 2015, Murphy’s experience has become strangely cyclical: like Masterson’s team six years ago, she’s looking to help prevent the successive All Ireland wins of a dominant Cork side from extending to six.
Unsurprisingly, football has infiltrated every aspect of Murphy’s life over recent years. “Training is tough,” she admits. “But there are several players from that under-16 side still around me. I don’t think I’d have made it to where I am today if I didn’t have friends from St Brigid’s and from the age-group teams around me. Leah Caffrey, Siobhan Woods, Molly Lamb and Ciara Trant have moved up with me to the senior squad. When you’re out there pushing through the harder moments of training you need your friends around you. It makes all the difference.”
Murphy – a student who returned to college at DCU just a two weeks before the All Ireland final – also reports the sport having a strong impact on the rest of her life. “It helps with structure,” she explains. “It helps me have discipline in all aspects of life. When I’m stressed, the training is a great release, too. It’s something that’s always been there for me, something I can rely on.”
“My dad was always involved growing up,” she adds. “I’ve been around Dublin development squads since the under-11s. I think they’re really important, as they give lots of players a chance. It can be hard to be seen, and it also gives the players a chance to see what’s there for them, the professionalism there is there. The senior managers always showed an interest in the development squads. It’s very much ‘Team Dublin.’ It needs to be that kind of stepping stone”
The time away gave Murphy a new challenge. She returned just in time to see the side defeated in the final last year (“four of us who didn’t play met up, had breakfast and went down to the game. It was surreal.”) Breaking back into a side fresh from an All Ireland final was a tough, with Murphy pushing her way into the team at full back when Muireann Ni Scanaill was injured. The St Brigid’s star took full advantage, and has held firmly on to the jersey with some superb performances throughout the championship.
“There’s huge competition for a place,” Murphy says. “It was tough, and I guess it fell my way. It makes everyone a better player having that level of competition. Training games are really intense. You see people like Julia Buckley [a Kilmacud Crokes youngster currently training with the senior squad] come in and just go for it, and you know you have to be at the highest level. Subs are settling games now. ”
Murphy sees plenty of reason to believe in Dublin finally overturning that Cork dominance, having suffered Championships agony against the Munster girls for the last three years in a row.
“This year we’re mentally tougher. We’ve had our backs against the wall throughout the Championship. The last two rounds against Mayo and Donegal have come down to the tiniest of margins, and we’ve come through,” Murphy explains. “I think we’ve shown great character.”
“There’s so much pride pulling on that jersey. Going to Croke Park is like going to the Colosseum. It’s electric. It feels like people are really starting to notice how good the women’s game is. They’re starting to tune in a little bit earlier in the season, and to understand that we put in the same commitment as the men. You notice the decibel levels in Croke Park, and really feel like it’s getting there.”
The progress, Murphy feels, is broader, too. “We’ve seen huge improvements in the sport over the last few years, especially with sponsorship, and with Lidl giving money to different clubs. It’s on a high. We’ve got something to be very proud of.”
When the young full back steps out before the Croke Park thousands to face off against the reigning All Ireland champions on Sunday, she’ll be doing so as one of the county’s junior-most players, but the role will represent the culmination of a playing career that’s had her donning sky blue since the age of 10. She’s the perfect example of the way development squads should work: someone who’s fought their way up, learnt from the experience and found themselves a vital part of the county first team.
If Dublin can grab that win, a seed that germinated in Murphy’s mind exactly six years ago will finally have born fruit.
Written by James Hendicott for (and reprinted with permission of) the DLGFA.