Eire Og looking for Carlow glory again
By Cian O’Connell
Since winning their first County Senior title in 1960 in Carlow, Eire Og have always been contenders. Seven years between 1998 and 2005 is the longest gap they’ve gone without silverware in that stint and Joe Murphy is fully aware of Eire Og’s proud tradition.
Murphy was one of the stars of an epic decade for the club in the 90s. Five Leinster Championships were won during a glorious burst. Unfortunately the Andy Merrigan was never hoisted, but Eire Og had captured the hearts and minds of GAA enthusiasts.
Eire Og’s last Carlow decider appearance was in 2012 so Murphy is thrilled that they are back challenging. “It has been a while, 2012, that might sound a little bit condescending, but it is a long time for Eire Og,” Murphy says.
“We won five Leinster titles in the 90s. I was on all five teams and I was lucky enough to be captain in 1998.”
That was a particularly memorable campaign when Eire Og defeated Kilmacud Crokes following a second replay in the provincial final played in January 1999. It was a truly remarkable period for the Carlow outfit.
“It was, it is a bit of a distant memory now,” Murphy laughs. “It is a time we probably didn't expect, but took full advantage of and it is nice to reflect on it. We are very proud that Eire Og can be associated with such accomplishments.”
Links exist with the current team. Murphy is now a shrewd and respected sideline operator, while a string of his former colleagues have family members involved.
“We have Willie Quinlan's son, Niall Quinlan, Jody Morrissey's son, Jordan Morrissey, we have Turlo O'Brien's son, Darragh O'Brien,” Murphy remarks.
“There is connections between then and now which would be typical of any club. The family traditions in the club are very strong so we are delighted to have younger players coming through that have that association from what happened in the 90s.”
Murphy is relishing his return to the Eire Og set-up after some successful stints elsewhere. “Initially when I was playing I would have taken over some Under 21 teams and helped out with my own children's teams.
“I trained Old Leighlin in Carlow to two Championships, I did a stint with St Laurence’s in Kildare and Graiguecullen in Laois as well.”
That aided Murphy in his coaching career hugely, especially the time spent in Kildare. “Absolutely, it was a great learning curve.
“Sometimes when you are submerged in the one place you might get into habits that are frankly outdated or you might form opinions of players that you are constantly involved with that aren't fair. So it is always good to see what the grass was like over there, especially in Kildare.
“That was a fabulous county to coach in and it was during Kieran McGeeney's time so Kildare football was really on a high. It was very beneficial for my own experience to have gone through that.”
Since returning to the club scene in Carlow Murphy feels that progress has been made highlighting how the inter-county team fared in 2017 as evidence.
“Coming back to Carlow one thing that stands out is that the Club Championship has gone very, very competitive,” Murphy remarks.
“Teams in their preparation and organisation are a match with any county in the country. How they did this year is a spin off, the good run this year and the notable matches have been that. It comes from the grassroots. Players aren't coming into a county set-up and doing things that are alien to them.
“They are doing it at club level now and you have four or five really strong clubs in Carlow at the moment. That is raising the standard of both football and also preparation for these games. Maybe in years gone by there was always one or two teams, but that has gone across the board which is great for the excitement and is great for the county.
“Carlow have got great confidence from having an extended run in the Championship so hopefully through the clubs that can build and it can only benefit Carlow from an inter-county level then after.”
Eire Og have been busy trying to return to the summit of the Carlow game. One more leap needs to be taken on Sunday against a solid and resourceful Rathvilly, who have been in three of the last four Carlow finals.
“If you look at the profile of the team that last won the Championship in 2012 to the current team that will take the field on Sunday, there is a big transition after happening,” Murphy adds.
“I think there will be three guys, possibly four that would have been playing in 2012. Sometimes you'd like for things to happen overnight, but sometimes it takes longer. Eire Og have always been diligent with youth development in the club and sometimes you just have to be a little bit patient for that to come through. We are starting to see signs of it now, we aren't there yet.
“Next Sunday's game will have a bearing on seeing exactly where we are, but the signs are good. We are in a minor final as well, we won the Intermediate League so the signs of progression in the club are starting to show.
“We are very excited about it, but we just need to keep the finger on the pulse so we can take advantage of any opportunity we get to progress that bit further.”