CORK SOCCER has a proud tradition of producing players who have competed with some of the world’s greatest exponents of the beautiful game.
Players like Charlie Hurley, Noel Cantwell, Frank O’Farrell, Kieran O’Regan, Denis Irwin and Roy Keane have had memorable duels across the playing fields of Ireland and further afield.
But for a 24-year-old goalkeeper from Main Street, Rathcormac, his confrontation with legendary Middlesborough and England inside-forward Wilf Mannion in May 1952 was the highlight of a glittering sporting career that included athletics and Gaelic football among his many talents.
Jim Murphy was born on January 27, 1928, and displayed early promise as a field athlete along with his brother Con, representing St Colman’s AC, by winning the Castlelyons’ Novice One Hundred Yard sprint on July 14, 1947.
He was the outstanding performer at the Cork County Youths’ Championships at Whitegate a week later, capturing four events including the glamour Munster 220-yard title. Further successes at Glenville and Ballyduff followed in August before his qualification as an air traffic controller took him to Shannon Airport, a career move that would allow him to take up soccer for the first time with stunning effect.
Shannon Airport FC signed the North Corkman as a goalkeeper following his impressive display for Limerick in the county’s thrilling 3-6 to 1-6 win over Cork in the Munster Junior Football Final at Kilmallock on August 22, 1950. His impressive display in a junior international trial was rewarded with his first cap against England on Easter Monday, April 14, 1952, in which he played well in a 1-1 draw at Dalymount Park.
His reputation was further enhanced when he was selected once again for the visit to Shawfield Stadium, Scotland where he helped inspire a fine 2-1 win before keeping his place for the return a year later.
In between, the visit of crack English First Division team Middlesborough to Leeside to participate in a benefit match for Cork Athletic’s Florrie Burke, gave the Rathcormac native his biggest challenge to date by, attempting to curb legendary English star Wilf Mannion.
Mannion, at 5' 5" and sturdily built, was a beautifully balanced player with immaculate close control, a dangerous burst of speed, and the ability to weave his team expertly together.
The attendance at the Mardyke on Sunday, May 11, 1952, was the largest seen at the venue since the international friendly between Ireland and Hungary in 1938.
Murphy lined out with homegrown stars Davie and Paddy Noonan, Willie Cotter and Johnny Moloney and were more than a match for their illustrious opponents in the opening half. Boro were unable to find no way past the inspirational Murphy despite the best efforts of Mannion, Lindy Delapenha, Henry Bell and Alex McCrae.
After Davie Noonan’s short back-pass was put in by Spuhler in the 35th minute, the Athletic eleven replied with the goal of the game from Shelbourne’s Colferfour minutes later to leave the sides level at half-time.
Murphy was quick into action in the second half with a timely interception as Mannion prepared to make contact with Neilie Mochan’s cross. McCrea finally broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute to give the visitors the lead again and as the hosts faded, a Davie Noonan own goal and a fourth from Delapenha sealed a hard-fought victory.
With seven minutes remaining Mannion finally got on the score sheet, heading in a rebound off Murphy after the acrobatic netminder turned away Delapenha’s blistering close-range volley.
He settled with his wife Joan Hawe and family George, John, Shay, David and Mark in Melbourne, Bishopstown before retiring to the picturesque setting of Forglen, Fennell’s Bay, Crosshaven.
Mannion, the one-time outspoken advocate of a player’s right to transfer, wasn’t quite as fortunate in later years.
After failing to hold on to his job as player-manager of Cambridge United, he developed gambling problems while looking after his unwell wife before returning to his native Teesside to see out the remainder of his days, betrayed by a lack of purpose and direction.
For the enthusiastic Murphy and the brilliant Mannion, their day in the Dyke nearly 70 years ago will live long in the memory of all who were fortunate in be in attendance!