From sinners to Saints... Murphy and the new breed of Rebel footballer offer real hope going forward

From sinners to Saints... Murphy and the new breed of Rebel footballer offer real hope going forward
Cork manager Keith Ricken with Blake Murphy and supporters from St Vincent's. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

AT the outset of the season, the U20s didn’t even have a management team sorted. 

Yet when Keith Ricken took charge he set their sights high. As they were into the Munster semi-final, four wins would see them lift an All-Ireland.

For silky centre-forward Blake Murphy that was music to the young footballers’ ears. Murphy had captained a Cork U17 crew narrowly beaten by Kerry and along with team-mates knew they weren’t that far off the mark.

“From the very start when Keith Ricken came in as the manager he instilled into us that we’d every chance of going all the way.

“He knew we’d the talent because every year when Cork were winning minor All-Irelands we were coming up just short, we were often the closest team to them. It was about finding the extra bit to get us over the line in the big games, that belief.”

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

They needed every ounce of that confidence in Portlaoise on Saturday. Down by nine points early doors before Murphy’s improvised soccer volley raised a green flag.

The number 11’s jinks and sidesteps come from his background as an Irish basketball international but his finish was straight from La Liga.

“I actually never really played soccer apart from on the green or in the front garden but I just went for it.”

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

From that moment on, helped by Mark Cronin and Colm O’Callaghan adding goals soon after, the fans were on board.

“The crowd was unreal. They really drove us on. Even when we were losing they didn’t give up on us and once the couple of goals went in they got behind us in a big way.

“At half-time it was a huge lift going in, knowing we’d Dublin on the rack, with the wind to come and the crowd cheering us on. The wind was a factor but the crowd was even more of a factor, it was fantastic.”

Murphy departed the pitch with 10 minutes of normal time remaining to a roof-lifting ovation after his tally of 1-2.

“Our bench... everyone who comes on Fionn Herlihy, Jack Murphy, Jack McCarthy, they do the same if not better jobs than the starters.

“That’s been instilled in us too, to empty the tank and shake the hand of whoever comes in for you.”

The Vincent’s connection, with Blake’s father John Paul a club legend, made it a great day for the northside club.

“Keith coached my dad growing up, when I was very young up in Vincent’s, and now he’s a big part of my career as well. That’s special.”

Ricken wasn’t the only big presence in the dressing room, with coach Maurice Moore and selectors Pat Spratt, Mícheál Ó Cróinín and Colm O’Neill involved.

“Their influence was something else, you wouldn’t even be able to describe but when they pull a forward to one side after a session the tips they give can make the difference. We’re learning all the time. They’ve been through it all so you have to take it on board.

“We always had the football, it was putting it all together and getting the right balance in our 15. When you’ve those three inside (Cronin, Cathal O’Mahony and Damien Gore) you know it’s just about getting the right ball into them.”

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The next step? Plenty of well-deserved celebrating but also more hard work to build on the progress made over the summer.

“There are about 10 lads underage again next year so even though we’ll enjoy this, we’ll go right at again next season. We won’t just be stopping at this.”

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