The Leeside Legends series: Noel Murphy is a key figure in Munster rugby history

The Leeside Legends series: Noel Murphy is a key figure in Munster rugby history

Former Cork Constitution and Ireland rugby international Noel Murphy (right) at an Irish team training session with Ulster player Mike Gibson.

NOEL MURPHY will go down as one the greatest rugby players and sports ambassadors that this country has produced.

He was born near the Lough on Cork’s Southside but moved to Mulgrave Road on Cork’s Northside as a young boy.

Murphy was educated at Christian Brothers College Cork and was a leading role for them as they landed the Munster Schools Junior Cup of 1951/52.

In his early sporting career, Noel was an all-rounder and, in his youth, he played hurling with Grenagh and soccer with Victoria Rangers.

Noel began his rugby career by playing underage with Connettes and in 1955 he took his first tentative steps towards the big time at Cork Constitution with the clubs Junior team.

The following year he moved up to the Senior squad and his 15-year tenure in this grade saw him win five Munster Senior Cups and a record-breaking eight consecutive Munster Senior League titles.

It wasn’t long before his displays with Cork Con caught the attention of the Munster Senior selectors and he began playing with the province in 1956.

Longevity is a key word in his career, and he saw 14 seasons of action with the famous Reds as in that time he played against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Murphy gained the first of his 41 International Senior caps in 1958 and was rated by many as the best flankers in the British Isles.

Munster rugby team 1958. Back: Gordon Wood, Spillane, Noel Murphy, Tom Nesdale, Finbarr Buckley, Paddy O’Callaghan, Gooser Geary, Tim McGrath. Front: Mick English, Ray Hennessey, Liam Coughlan, Tom Cleary, Tom Kiernan, Jerry Walsh, Dan Kennefick.
Munster rugby team 1958. Back: Gordon Wood, Spillane, Noel Murphy, Tom Nesdale, Finbarr Buckley, Paddy O’Callaghan, Gooser Geary, Tim McGrath. Front: Mick English, Ray Hennessey, Liam Coughlan, Tom Cleary, Tom Kiernan, Jerry Walsh, Dan Kennefick.

“I have had many pleasures and thrills out of rugby in my time but to me there is nothing better than wearing the green jersey.

“It is hard exactly to explain how I felt every time I was capped but to be playing for your country is the ultimate honour for any player.”

Murphy’s outstanding displays for Ireland were rewarded when he was selected for two Lions tours.

His first tour was in 1959 to New Zealand, Australia and Canada a tour that wouldn’t have suited any player that was prone to homesickness.

“At that time our tours would last up to five months with a total of 33 games to be played and it was tough going to be away from home for that amount of time.

“To be honest at that time we were all amateur players playing against professionals, but we always acquitted ourselves well.”

Murphy got his second call for a Lions tour in 1966 and it was the same route as his previous tour as once again it was a tough schedule that included nine test tours.

When Noel brought the curtain down on his international career in 1969, he had achieved everything possible out of the game.

After taking a break for a few years he started his career in coaching by taking over the reins of the Munster team.

After a successful spell with Munster he took over the Irish Senior team between 1976 and 1979 and in the latter he led Ireland to two test wins over Australia in their own back yard.

“The media at the time gave me a hard time because I had picked Ollie Campbell ahead of Tony Ward but to the present day, I would not have done it any other way.

“When you are a coach you a bound to hurt somebody’s feelings, but it is never personal as for me it’s all about doing your best for the team at all times.”

In 1980 Murphy was bestowed with the honour to coach the British Lions tour of South Africa.

Noel selected players like Ollie Campbell, Rodney O’Donnell, Tony Ward, Phil Orr, Colm Tucker and John O’Driscoll.

It was not the best of tours for the Lions as despite winning 15 of their 18 games they crucially lost all three tests to South Africa.

Murphy also served as President of the Irish Rugby Football Union and was a member of the Six Nations Committee.

When you look back at the Murphy tradition in rugby it is quite remarkable to note that three generations have played with Ireland at senior level.

Noel Murphy (Snr) in 1931 and Kenny Murphy son of Noel (Jnr) played in the 1990s.

Noel and his wife Noelle enjoyed many years of happiness together and they were blessed with six children.

Rugby has been simply a way of life for Noel Murphy and the city of Cork is proud to have produced a man that has served them both on and off the field with honour and dignity.

FACTFILE:

  • Noel Murphy won a total of 41 caps between 1958 and 1969.
  • Murphy was selected on the British Lions tours of 1959 and 1966 to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
  • Noel coached Munster, Ireland, and the British Lions when he retired from playing.
  • Noel Murphy is an ex-president of the IRFU and is a present member of the Six Nations committee board.
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