Mick Murphy was a key player in the Cork basketball team sponsored by U2

Gonkers landed an All-Ireland title in the 1980s and had a special connection to Ireland's most famous band through Joe O'Herlihy
Mick Murphy was a key player in the Cork basketball team sponsored by U2

The All-Ireland winning basketball team in 1982. Back: Conny Coughlan, coach Denis Keane, Pat Corkery, Donal Horgan, Terence Ryan, Greg Creagh, Willie Sisk, Mick Murphy Denis Daly, Anthony Duke, Teddy Walsh. Front: Paudie O’Gorman, Joe Higgins, Larry Murphy, Val O’Driscoll, Bernie Timoty, Francie Higgins, Ger Keane, Dommie Dalton, Micky Prendergast.

BEFORE American basketball players arrived in Ireland some local players had to be able to play many positions on the floor.

One of those players who could play guard, forward, and in the post, was Mick Murphy, who was a master of all roles. He played with a lot of clubs, however, his most successful years were with the Gonkers basketball club.

He played in probably the best squad of players put together by coach Denis Keane in 1982 when they reached the Holy Grail and won the senior All-Ireland title.

He was a tough, but fair, player who left everything on the court for his team.

He had great footwork that made him go by the biggest of players at his ease, but when he played guard, he was too strong for them on the block and had incredible timing as he could outrebound most opponents.

Like his brother Sean, he also tried to help the younger players he played against. A number of times young players got a belt off him; he would always make it his business to find them out after the game and explain that he only hit them to toughen them up. The idea was, the next game they played when they got a belt they'd give one back.

Former basketball player Mick Murphy with his wife Laura and some of his family.
Former basketball player Mick Murphy with his wife Laura and some of his family.

Mick first got involved in basketball at a young age, playing in the local street leagues in and around the Blarney Street area.

“My first taste of basketball was as an eight-year-old playing in the local street leagues with my brothers Sean, and Larry for the New Road just off Old Market Place.

“We played all the other roads or terraces in the Blarney Street area, and had great times, playing against the Mullins brothers (Thomas, Eddie, and Dommie from Barrett’s Terrace, the O’Sullivan brothers (Noel, Jerry, Pat,) and from Wise’s Hill, and Dalton brothers (Dommie, Dinny, and Micheal from Barrett’s Building’s.

“I then played with Iona to be coached by my brother Sean, again making great friends like Johnny O’Mahony, Jim O’Sullivan, Micky (Dargdo) Dalton, Martin Gall, and Jeff Behan.”

“As I got older I played with The Taste, Hibernians where I played under coach John O’Leary, and Neptune for a two- or three-year period until I joined the Gonkers.

The year 1975 is a year Mick should never forget as he married his childhood sweetheart Laura, and they were blessed with three children Sinead, Micheal Jr, and Thomas, and has three grandchildren Beth, Morgan, and Dillon.

Also in 1975, Mick captained the Cork team that played an American team New York Hawks at the Parochial Hall.

The game was scheduled to be played at 8pm, however, their flight was delayed, and the game was played at 12 midnight, and the headline on the Cork Examiner the next morning was 'Basketball at the wretched hour'.

Three years later he joined Gonkers where he had a glorious and very successful spell.

“I was asked to join Gonkers in 1978 by Stevey Keehan and Teddy Walsh, and they sold me the idea mentioning their training facilities, the indoor hall at the Rock Steps, the outdoor court at Blarney St School, and the outdoor court in Mount St Joseph’s were there was an outdoor swimming pool.

So when I first arrived for our first training session I was looking forward to having a swim afterward.

“However, I was greeted with the sight of Micky and Francie Higgins painting the lines on the court, Tongie Olden, Denis McCarthy, Joe Higgins getting the baskets ready, and Micky  O’Donoughue cutting back the palm trees so we could train.

“I thought to myself at least we have swimming in the pool, but when I went over to see it, there was no water!"

“Welcome to the Gonkers,” Mick said with a hearty laugh.

In 1982, Gonkers went for broke and made some excellent signings, with Greg Creagh, Denis Daly, Anthony Duke, and Mickey Prendergast all coming on board.

Another successful Gonkers basketball team in the 1980s. Back: John O’Sullivan, Denis McCarthy, Mick Lehane, Mick Murphy, Terence Ryan, Joe Higgins, Teddy Walsh. Front: Stevey Keehan, Pat O’Gorman, Thomas Rawley, Francie Higgins, Ger Keane, Tongie Olden, Connie Coughlan.
Another successful Gonkers basketball team in the 1980s. Back: John O’Sullivan, Denis McCarthy, Mick Lehane, Mick Murphy, Terence Ryan, Joe Higgins, Teddy Walsh. Front: Stevey Keehan, Pat O’Gorman, Thomas Rawley, Francie Higgins, Ger Keane, Tongie Olden, Connie Coughlan.

Our coach Denis Keane had us training three nights and every Sunday morning that summer at outdoor court at Strawberry Hill Secondary School.

“Denis would find every object he could find to put a circuit training course together.

“At the time the club were trying to get Donal Horgan out of retirement so Stevey Keehan and Teddy Walsh invited him to come along one Sunday morning to see the training session at Strawberry Hill.

“He arrived and was looking through the railings when Denis spotted him. 'Will you join in as were training for the All-Ireland?'

“Donal replied in his laid-back way: 'Are you sure it’s the All-Ireland and not the Olympics you are training for?' as laughter broke out between all the players, and needless to say when the session was finished, Hoggy was signed.

“Hoggy was the final piece of the jigsaw as we cleaned the boards that season, and finally getting our hands on the All-Ireland trophy.”

Former basketball player Mick Murphy, wearing his Gonkers top that was sponsored by the band U2.
Former basketball player Mick Murphy, wearing his Gonkers top that was sponsored by the band U2.

In 1985, Gonkers made headlines again this time when they were sponsored by rock band U2.

“Joe O’Herlihy was the sound technician with U2 and was the brother-in-law of Val O’Driscoll and Francie Higgins. They asked him could he get some sponsorship, and he kindly got tracksuits for the team.

“The first night we wore them, we were playing Blue Demons at the Parochial Hall and got ready on the stage.

Every jaw dropped in the Hall that night when us old men came on to the court with our fancy tracksuits.

“I retired in the late '80s when I picked up a bad leg injury playing soccer with our local team Bohs.”

Mick and his family have gone a difficult few years as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, however, when I did this interview I could see the excitement in his eyes as he recalled those great days.

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