My GAA Life

My GAA Life: Down’s Cathal Murray

Name: Cathal Murray.

Which teams did you represent?

Clonduff, Down, St Colman’s College, St Mary’s, Combineed Universities, Chicago Wolfe Tones, then Monaghan New York, Tyrone New York and Roscommon in New York, Garryowen in London.

I played four summers in Chicago. When you didn’t have a game in Chicago you could have went down to play in New York. I also played for Garryowen in London. I’ve seen a fair bit. I loved it. It was different and less pressure.

Playing in Chicago was an immense experience, playing with the likes of Jack O’Shea. It was a high standard of football. I wasn’t happy the first couple of weeks I was there and then there was word that Jack O’Shea was a big deal. The Wolfe Tones in Chicago had an Ulster element. The St Brendan’s were Kerry. So the Wolfe Tones getting Jack O’Shea was a big deal.

What’s your current involvement?

Teaching in St Colman’s, coaching with Louth and Carryduff.

What are your favourite memories from your playing days.

The happiest time was with St Mary’s when we were on the Sigerson runs. We won it on our second atttempt. We got to the Ryan Cup final in the first year. We could have had three Sigersons. We were beat in the semi-final, we won in ’89, and a James McCartan-inspired Queen’s beat us in 1990. We had two great men taking us in Peter Finn and Jim McKeever.

What was your greatest moment in the GAA?

We won the minors in 1987 and then seeing your heroes like Larry Tompkins and Brian Stafford from the senior final.

I recently met Brian Stafford on the documentary of the Down and Meath teams, raising awareness of middle aged men and heart disease. We had a great night. It was great to chat to Stafford about watching him as an eight-year-old. He was something else.

My greatest moment was the Sigerson win. It was great because we were underdogs. We had a great bond. We were living 24/7 with each other. There was a greater bond at university than there would be at county level.

What was the most surprising moment in your career?

Being dropped for the first round of the championship in 1994, the Derry game. I had played the whole league, and at the end of the league we had played two games. I had played corner-back in the first friendly. Conor Deegan came back and the whole team was shuffled about and I lost out. It was a tough one to take considering where the team went to. I stuck around till the Ulster semi-final, but I saw that the writing was on the wall and I wasn’t going to get any game-time. John Kelly had already been dropped and he had played against Derry. Pete was never one for making changes unless he had to. I had already got an All-Ireland medal as a sub and two wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I thought I had done enough to get on. Gregory McCartan had been there in 1991 and forced his way onto the team. Through the league campaign I thought I had done enough. I was quite bitter about it. I had played a position I had never played (corner-back). I have no regrets. I made the decision and I would make the same decision today.

Who was the best player you ever played with?

You have to say Jack O’Shea, he was on the Team of Millenium. I remember seeing him strip off and he was like a thoroughbred race horse. He was so ripped. When you look at Cristiano Ronaldo being so ripped, Jack O’Shea was like that and probably had never lifted a weight. He was such a presence. He was a perfectionist. He was a real leader.

It would have been easy for him to take a few pound and played in Chicago, and it not mean anything. Particularly when he didn’t know boys, or only knew them for a few days. But he really put everything in. I got my eyes opened about how much he wanted to achieve with a group of boys who had just come together for a summer. It meant something to him, and that impressed me.

Pat O’Byrne was there too. I remember I was dragged down for a penalty and I went to hit it. Jack said to me, ‘I’ll take it.’ I said, ‘no you’re grand Jack.’ I wouldn’t say I was cocky or arrogant, but I scored it. He laughed and joked about it after it. After I was thinking to myself, ‘what was I at’. But I scored that one.

What was the best score you ever saw in a game you were involved in?

One of the scores that was key was back in the 1990 championship match with Armagh. The crowd were leaving and wee James McCartan put two past Benny Tierney to draw the game. One of them started when I blocked down Brian Canavan. I transferred to Liam Austin who sent it in to James who lifted the net with it. The goal was great, but the creation is as important. I got a great kick out of creating things. In the league in 1990 the full-forward line would have been me, James and Mickey (Linden), but I would have went out to the half-forward line, and tried to be a creator. I try to tell wee fellas that they don’t always have to be a finsher.

Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?

My mum and dad were great influences. They were at all my games. My dad was involved with teams. They put me in to board in my last three years at St Colman’s and I was fit to play football and get three and a half hours study a night. I don’t know if I would be sitting where I was today without that happening. Then you had Ray Morgan at St Colman’s. He was a greater reader of people. Then you had Jim McKeever (St Mary’s). They contributed to making me the player that I became.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received about playing?

That came from Jim McKeever. I was a self taught free-taker. But Jim took me through the concepts. He made sure that I had the practice. He told me the concept of visualisation. That gave me a different outlook and made me more efficient and effective.

What was the best thing about playing in your era?

The freedom of it all. It was 15 on 15. These days it is massed defences and you can’t play off the cuff. There was more individual responsibility. One of the things about the Down team was that if a defender went forward to shoot, and he missed he’d go back down the field and then he’d have Mickey in his ear shouting at him, then Greg Blaney, then Eamonn Burns then DJ Kane. By the time he got back to his position he would be hammered four or five times. A player soon learnt their place. If they made a mistake they would be called out.

What was the worst thing about playing your era?

Knock-out football. You put so much into a campaign for one game. You would have been going from October. Then you could be knocked out in one game. But knock-out has its place.

When did you know it was time to call it quits?

When Pete dropped me in 1994 I should have seen the writing on the wall. I finished in 1998 but in  my last few years I was plagued with hamstring bother. Even psychologically it was hard. I finished at 30 but it wasn’t till I realised that I had one leg shorter than the other. If that had been picked up it might have been different.

What interesting or funny story may readers not know about you or one of your former teammates?

On the tour to Boston after 1991, in 1992, there was a reception for the team and it was a late night. The next day  we had to play a game. It was a scorching hot day. One of the boys who had enjoyed himself quite late the night before. He takes a massive leap, like a salmon, with arms stretched. He is just about to grab the ball. He forgot to bring his arms together and the ball pinged off his forehead. Within a few seconds Pete had him back on the line. It was the funniest thing.

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