There was a deep sense of shock and sadness throughout the locality this week as news spread of the sudden and untimely death of Denis Murphy, Abbeyfeale Hill and late of Church Street.
I first met Denis many years ago during Cheltenham as he rushed across the road to Malachy Skelly’s betting shop. He told me he had a tip for a horse.
“A certainty. Got it from Spike!” he assured me.
The horse lost of course but a friendship was forged that would endure and stand the test of time.
Down through the years we engaged in numerous escapades and adventures, enjoyed an odd drink or two, told many a good yarn, had many a good laugh and even shed an occasional tear.
Denis was very much involved with Abbeyfeale Rugby Club both as a player and official. He invited me to the AGM and promptly proposed me as club PRO.
“Better to have him inside the tent, peeing out ……..” he insisted.
We were soon travelling to such exotic and distant places as Mallow, Ballincollig, Clonakilty, Kilrush and even Duagh!
In fairness, we also had days out in Musgrave Park for a Challenge Cup final and Thomond Park for a Munster Plate final. We lost both games but this never spoiled our enjoyment of the occasion. There was always another match to be played and another challenge to be met.
Denis’ neighbour, Philip Danaher, was selected to play for Ireland in 1988 and went on to win 28 caps for his country.
“I taught Philip all he knows about rugby.” Denis would modestly proclaim.
There was even a rumour (probably started by Denis himself) that the selection letter from the IRFU was delivered to the wrong address and should have gone next-door to the Murphy household. However, nothing was ever proved.
“I was talking to Philip last night ……..” Denis would announce to an assembly of noisy rugby aficionados. There would be an immediate and respectful silence. Anyone in personal contact with the captain of Garryowen, Munster and Ireland deserved to be heard. Denis dined out on this caper until Danaher retired.
He met his future wife, Kathleen, when she worked behind the bar in Jack O’Rourke’s pub. They started walking out together but told nobody so as to avoid the inevitable fuss.
It proved to be the worst kept secret in the world. The whole bar soon knew about it but everybody kept quiet out of pure devilment. Eventually, Denis owned up and revealed the romance, after which, amid much hilarity and a mountain of good wishes, he was forced to buy a drink for the house.
He had great regard for the Lane family, and particularly for Kathleen’s parents, Johnnie and Joan.
“I didn’t marry in to a family.” he would say. “I married in to a dynasty!”
Ireland played England at Twickenham and a big contingent from Abbeyfeale travelled over for the match. The Irish squad had a training session on the Sunday morning and Denis managed to get himself and Kathleen in to watch.
Kathleen sat on the scrummaging machine reading the latest salacious scandal from the News Of The World while Denis went around proffering advise to anyone who would listen.
After a while, the Irish pack drifted over towards the scrummaging machine.
“Sorry Kate.” said Donal Lenihan, apologetically “We need to practise on the machine.”
Kathleen was not best pleased at being disturbed from her reading.
“For feic’s sake, Donal!” she protested, folding her newspaper as two burly forwards gently lifted her down. “How do you expect to shove against England if you can’t even push this yoke with just a slip of a girl on it!”
She was right. Ireland were well beaten later that afternoon. The event has since entered in to rugby folklore.
Denis also had a keen interest in GAA and trained the Fr Casey senior team that reached the county final in 1994 before losing narrowly to Claughaun. He was a more than useful half-back in his day and put in some sterling performances against top class opposition.
He was selected to play corner-back in a tournament game against Brosna during the Mountcollins carnival. We drove over together and he bet me that he would hold his man scoreless for the entire game. Denis was probably past is best at this stage and it seemed to me like a good bet.
I stood behind the Abbeyfeale goal and after a few minutes a Brosna forward burst through with Denis hot on his heels. The Brosna man stopped suddenly and coolly slotted the ball over the bar as Denis flew past him.
Denis kept on running. He raced around behind the goals to where a group of us stood.
“That wasn’t my man!” he shouted as he raced by and ran out on to the pitch again to an almighty cheer.
True to his word, Denis held his man scoreless for the rest of the game and won the bet.
Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton, was guest of honour at Newcastle West FC dinner dance prior to the Euro ‘88 championships. Denis and Kathleen with Breeda and myself bought tickets and travelled down to the event and enjoyed a great night of eating and dancing and carousing.
Near the end of the night we joined Jack Charlton for a drink at the bar as he described how he, almost single-handedly, won the 1966 World Cup for England.
Not to be outdone, Denis gave a blow-by-blow account of his scoring the winning try for Abbeyfeale against Shannon in the Munster Junior Plate Final at Thomond Park.
Charlton seemed impressed as Denis went on to describe bringing opposition teams out to the snowy wilds of The Mountain in the middle of winter and bombarding them with high balls and Garryowens.
“It used to frighten the bejasus out of them!” he declared.
“Did it indeed?” Charlton replied thoughtfully as he stood up and shook hands before taking his leave of us.
He went away and soon afterwards created his very successful “long ball” and “put ‘em under pressure” strategy. People wondered where he might have got the idea from. Denis was too modest to say.
We continued to share a variety of colourful exploits and experiences down through the years, including drinking margaritas to excess at a cocktail night in Leen’s Hotel and evading the guards during a late-night raid on a charity pub quiz in Knocknagoshel!
We have previously described Denis’ involvement in the Ballydonnell Sam caper and also the trip with his brother, Con, to New York. There were many other frills and frolics, too numerous to mention here. Hopefully, some day somebody will take the time to sit down and write a book about the whole affair. I would certainly buy it!
We met Denis just a couple of weeks ago in Jack O’Rourke’s and he seemed in fine form as he cracked jokes and reminisced about old times and old friends.
“Will Ireland win the Grand Slam!” we asked
“Well, I was talking to Philip last night …..” he answered with a laugh.
Before he left, he told us one final anecdote. It was about his late brother, Con.
Back in the seventies Con was due to travel to London to meet Patsy Byrne. Patsy phoned Con and asked him if he had the bit of sterling sorted out.
“Sterling?” Con replied, “Patsy, I haven’t even sorted out the punts yet!”
It was vintage Denis - and vintage Con. We will never see their likes again.
The funeral on Sunday was one of the biggest held in Abbeyfeale for many years. The local ruby club formed a guard of honour while close friend PG Harnett gave a moving oration and local musicians performed beautifully for the occasion. Former team mates arrived from all corners of the globe to show their respect.
It was a fitting tribute to a fallen hero.
Our condolences to Denis’ wife, Kathleen, to his brothers, Spike and Peter, to his aunt, Anna-Mai, to his mother-in-law Joan, and to his brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, relatives and friends. R.I.P.
Goodnight, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”