John Murphy made a habit of being the right man, at the right time. But a boy at the straggle end of the swinging sixties, by the end of summer 1968, the likeable Newry man had not only graduated to manhood, but had etched himself into the annals alongside the very greats to ever grace Gaelic Games.
For that particular summer, the boys in red and black were back.
Seven years on from their historic back to back coronations, the legends of O’Neill, Paddy Doc and Joe Lennon returned to their Croke Park playground with a band of fresher faced merrymen, destined to make the Jones’ Road a field of dreams for another generation of daring Mournemen.
At left-half forward, a 20 year-old Murphy starred not only on All-Ireland final day, but throughout an unbeaten season that saw Gerry Brown’s side capture the National Football League title as well as the county’s third Sam Maguire. But it would be that steadfast reliability that would underscore the remainder of his life that the Shamrocks fledgling will be forever synonymous with when it comes to speaking of September 23rd.
The opening exchanges in most All Ireland finals can be tight and tepid affairs. But on that day, the swashbuckling pretenders from north of the border ambushed a much fancied Kerry side.
Murphy’s telling blow - rattling home from close range in the ninth minute after a strike from Sean O’Neill had been parried by Johnny Culloty in the Kingdom goal – proved the difference in the two sides by the final whistle. The right man. The right time. Down three for three.
John passed on May 21st 2020, a huge blow not only to a family that adored what was a hero father, but a county who will forever be indebted to one of their greatest.
As John’s first anniversary approaches, sons Gavin and Karl were determined to mark the occasion with an act befitting of the man himself.
“He’d have a quare laugh at this craic”, laughs Karl. “We wanted to do something between the pair of us that would shine a light upon the things that Dad stood for – the quintessential Down man, and the man that could be always relied upon to push those around him on. I dare say me and Gavin will be having a few quiet words with him throughout this challenge.”
The challenge – cycling north of 280 miles on a route that encompasses all 49 of the Mourne counties club grounds – seems the perfect salute to give to Mr Down. The boys late father cherry topped that historic ’68 performance by being an integral part of Pete McGrath’s backroom team throughout the golden 90’s period.
“We’ll be clipping in the first weekend in July – starting Thursday the 1st at Gerry Brown Park (Newry Mitchels) and all being well free wheeling down the Point Road to our own clubrooms (Newry Shamrocks) on Saturday the 3rd”, continues Gavin. Running parallel to the final stage of the cycle on Saturday, John’s daughters Niamh and Fiona – not to be outdone- will be coordinating a Spinathon at the Shamrocks Club.
“We’re hoping to involve as many people as possible on the way, because we know Dad touched the lives of so many Gaels across the county, and supporters may even get to glimpse a few special guests in some lycra over the weekend”. Appearances from members of Down’s All-Ireland winning sides of ’91 and ’94 are to be expected at intervals throughout the weekend
, as well as familiar local GAA faces Ciaran McLogan (Newry Mitchels), Conor Grant (Newry Bosco), Shane Kehoe (Newry Shamrocks) and Dr David McCaul (Drumgath) joining the men for the full endurance experience.
The brothers have launched a Go Fund Me page with all proceeds from their endeavours going to aid a number of local cancer charities, namely the NI Hospice, NI Children’s Hospice, the Cancer Fund for Children and the Southern Area Hospice. “Whilst raising much needed provisions for these great charities is of paramount importance, it’ll be nice to once and for all put to bed some of the questions over our fitness levels that dogged the both of us over the course of our own playing careers”, finishes Karl.
“Speak for yourself…”, Gavin’s final pipe.
The John Murphy An Dún Charity Cycle took place over the weekend of Thursday 1st July to Saturday 3rd of July, with proceeds split between some of the north’s amazing local cancer charities.