HEIGHTENED emotions, raised stakes, pride, competitiveness, and love swirl around to form a potent cocktail of emotions.
It was a dreary evening last August in Ballinlough, when St Vincent’s stalwart, John Paul Murphy, was sprung from the bench to team up with his son, Blake, in the Seandun junior A hurling championship.
The father-and-son combination have also been involved with the Saints in the Premier Intermediate football championship, as John Paul looked back on his career with the northside club.
Born in Knocknaheeney in 1980, John Paul, 41, was soon encouraged to join the local St Vincent’s club by his neighbour and local TD, Thomas Gould, where the Street Leagues were the main attraction.
“If you had a pair of boots in the 1980s, Thomas Gould would make sure St Vincent’s was your destination,” said John Paul Murphy.
Indeed, at that time, the Saints had some very talented footballers and with Keith Ricken at the helm, they won an U16 county title in 1996. It was followed by a Premier minor county title in 1998.
“We had a great bunch of lads, like Paddy O’Shea and Anthony Buckley, to mention a couple, and we played together from juvenile all the way through the different grades,” added Murphy.
Playing intermediate was inevitable for the promising Murphy, and he did so in 1999, where, 22 years later, he is still part of the panel.
Following a drought for five years, Keith Ricken returned to the fore and the players responded by winning the Premier Intermediate football championship in 2006, followed by another title six years later.
“There was a great mix, as we had the older brigade, like Stephen Ray and Johnny Buckley, mixed with a few younger lads and, in the end, we had a very good side,” said John Paul Murphy.
Ricken had a big influence on the Saints and he ensured the lads trained hard. That laid the foundation for their success.
“Keith was brilliant in every sense of the word, as he looked after myself, and many more lads, all the way through.
His greatest trait, for me, was he had the knack of telling players what they wanted to hear, in order to get the best out of them.”
In 2019, Ricken was manager of the Cork U20 team that won the All-Ireland, a team that included John Paul’s son, Blake.
“I think he proved, with that team, his credentials of how to get the best from players, as that was a hard-All-Ireland series and they defeated Dublin in a thrilling final.”
It’s not all about coaching for Ricken, as he ensures that the players take the right path in life.
“His guidance helped me and many more lads and even when attending club occasions, he would always mention that seeing lads grow into fine family men was something he holds close to his heart and that’s a great sign of a genuine man,” John Paul Murphy said.
John Paul is now coaching at juvenile level and he is trying to produce up-and-coming players.
“I think, on our own side, our conveyor belt hasn’t been operating in the manner it should have been over the years, despite the efforts of many people, like Vincie Stokes, who has given his life to our club.
Kids, nowadays, have so much other things to go at and to be successful in any sport, you have to be dedicated, but, at the end of the day, we will keep trying, because the juvenile section is the foundation of any club.”
He married the love of his life, Carol Anne, in 2004, and they have four children: Blake, AJ, and twins Millie Rose and Gracie Rose, who will be celebrating their 12th birthday next month.
“I think the role of my wife, Carol Anne, should be documented, as she is a great mother to all our children and when the kids were small, she understood my love for the GAA.”
Hurling has definitely taken a slump in the Vincent’s club over many years and John Paul, despite still playing junior, believes numbers and relegation have been a major problem.
“When relegation came in, we were in the Premier Intermediate grade and, suddenly, it got worse and once you go down to junior, it’s a near impossibility to get out of it. If you haven’t got the players, the inevitable happens.
“I honestly cannot understand some players when they come to the age of 18: They don’t want to train and keeping them interested is a job for any club.”
This season, Blake Murphy is on the Cork senior football panel, getting his first run against Kildare.
“To be fair, Blake is very dedicated when it comes to training and, look, it’s down to him now, as age is on his side and for us, as a family, the only thing we miss is going to see Cork games, but, hopefully, that will change in the coming months.”
On a final note, John Paul expressed his gratitude to all volunteers and players at St Vincent’s for keeping the club afloat.
“I don’t like naming people, because you always end up omitting somebody by error, so, from the bottom of my heart, many thanks to all concerned at our great club, who have given me and my family many years of enjoyment.”
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