Kerry Footballers

The Greatest Right-Halfback of the Century - Sean Murphy of Camp

by Weeshie Fogarty

When talking of his native Camp, Sean Murphy exudes pride in his own place. When speaking of Gaelic football and its greatest exponents, the man who was selected as one of the 15 greatest Gaelic footballers of the century, is equally enthusiastic.  The 1959 All Ireland Final is a game that became known as 'Murphy's final'.  His exhibition of Gaelic football was reckoned by many to have been the finest ever seen in Croke Park.  It resulted in his winning the Texaco award. The award had been introduced the previous year and Sean was the first Kerryman to win it.  Jack Mahon, centre half-back for Galway in that game, described Murphy's performance as "Kerry football in all its glory, effortlessly executed by a master."
For the most part comments from the interview I had with Sean Murphy, run as direct quotes from him. They do not need the embellishment of explanation.

Valentia is a city, when compared to Camp

Camp is an unusual place, two hundred population. Tim O'Donnell, Charlie Sullivan, Denis Shea, Seamus Murphy, Padraig Murphy, Tom Murphy and myself all came from Camp. They won a lot of All-Irelands between them. I inherited the skills in Camp.  It was all round me. In a community so small, where Gaelic football had such a high profile, it would be difficult not to become interested and involved. Tim O'Donnell was my idol. I had not seen him play but the stories of his games filled my early years.  My father, Jackie Murphy, played football for Kerry.  He was originally from Ballydavid in West Kerry.  They were mostly half-backs and midfielders.  That was the type of football they played, mainly they were catch and kick footballers. They never over ran with the ball. They got the ball, looked around and kicked towards a forward running into position.

Camp won the West Kerry League in 1929, this was an extraordinary achievement when you consider the small number of players available. John Kerry O'Donnell and Tim O'Donnell were on this team. There were powerful footballers in Camp, who would hold their own with anyone.   There were also Driscolls, Pa and Michael who played for the Kerry Juniors, John Dunne and Micheál O'Leary who played for the Juniors and the Minors.  There were local leagues, and school competitions.

It might be difficult to get the small area and the small population of Camp into perspective. Valentia would be like a city compared to Camp.  Camp is only Camp Cross, there is Ashe's pub, Barry's put and O'Sheas. Lower Camp, where there is only one house, is a half a mile away. In order to play the game of football, the practice was to rent a field from a farmer, whatever field he did not want in that year.  The local school played an important part in fostering football. That is where I went to school, Camp National School, where my mother and my father, who died in 1946, taught.

Skills Acquired at Ballyvourney

I fine-honed my knowledge of the skills of the game at Ballyvourney College. We won the Munster Colleges for the first time ever in 1949.  I played for the Kerry minors in 1949 and we were beaten by Armagh in the final.  Based on the minor series of games, I was chosen for the Juniors and won a Junior All-Ireland in 1949.  I was young enough to play Minor, the following year, and by beating Wexford, 3-6 to 1-4, in the final, I won a Minor All-Ireland medal in 1950.

Played with the 'Old Kerry Brigade'

The great teams who took Kerry up to mid '40s when the winning of All-Irelands stopped were linked with the teams of the fifties, by a few players, who more or less handed over the baton. I played against Danno Keeffe. He played for Strand Road against Castlegregory when I was about sixteen. I also played against Joe Keohane, and I played with Paddy Bawn Brosnan in 1951.  I trained with Paddy Bawn and Thomas Ashe of Dingle, at Ballyheigue.  In that year, I played my first game in the senior championship, against Lough when I was co-opted from the Kerry juniors to the senior side."

College Players had Advantage

A lot of University students were playing College football through the winter, and were able to get places on the Kerry team as fellows who were farmers and fisherman hadn't the time to play. I was playing club football with Castlegregory and with Dingle. In Dublin, I played with UCD and Geraldines. In spite of playing with good club teams in both counties, I never won a club championship.  The nearest I came to it was when West Kerry was defeated by John Mitchels in a replay, when Mitchels went on to make it five in a row.

The Fifties

Essentially I played at right half-back for most of my career. In 1953, I started off for Kerry, as a sub against Clare.  My first playing position was centre-half forward against Cork whom we defeated in the '53 Munster final. I was taken out of that position to play left half-back against Louth in the semi final and I was switched to midfield, with Dermot Hannafin as my partner, against Armagh in the All-Ireland final.  Jas Murphy was delighted to take the well earned Sam Maguire.  We won 0-13 to 1-6.

In 1954 we lost the final to Meath 1-13 to 17.  Kerry, captained by the young Sean Dowling, were hot favourites. In 1955, I collected my second senior All-Ireland medal, when Kerry won 0-12 to 1-6, a victory that shocked Dublin.
Kerry was in the doldrums from '56 to '58 but in '59 they came back. Only four of us survived from the '53 team. With me were John Dowling, Paudie Sheehy and Jerome O'Shea. We beat Galway in the final 3-7 to 1-4. Mick O'Connell was captain. We came up against a great Down team in the 1960 final. They won and took the Sam Maguire over the border for the first time. In 1961 Down again beat Kerry in the semi final.  It was the last of my ten years in inter-county football.

Without a Club to Push for Him a player must make his own niche

As I came from Camp, I hadn't a club pushing for me. Most of the other players had clubs pushing for them. Without the club influence, a player was used for filling in the positions that they didn't have anyone for. Eventually, the day came when they couldn't afford to pick the team without you.

When Football was a sport "I was never assaulted"

Matches were tough, you were technically semi-confined to a sector, then you had an opposing footballer who was in close contact with you the whole time.  Everything was a tussle, a lot of effort went into acquiring every ball, it had to be fought for and won.

I played from 1949 to 1961 and I was never warned by a referee, I was never assaulted on the field.  I never saw the footballers I knew engage in fisticuffs.  I can't honestly remember a fight."

The best teams I played against were down of 1960 and the Galway team of '59.  Over my career period, Cork were always a good team. They played very good football and they were very difficult to beat. We had a theory then that any time you beat Cork you could win an All-Ireland.  They were always good enough to test you.  We had the advantage of meeting very good teams in the league and other matches. Carlow beat Kerry at Tralee.  Waterford also beat Kerry in '57 in the Munster Championship.  We were really tested by teams such as Galway, Mayo, Cavan, Roscommon, Down and Tyrone.  Wexford was also a good team.  Dublin, Lough and Meath were great teams to play against, so we had plenty of good competition. Any of the teams I have named could have gone on to win an All Ireland in those days."

The Best Players of Gaelic Football

One of the footballers who stands out in my memory as giving the greatest sporting pleasure to his team-mates, the opposition and the spectators was Paddy Doherty, of Down. As a back, he was the best player that I ever played against.  Another who I rate as first class was Sean Purcell. Galway.  He was the best player on the field in my time.  There was a saying about the young Jack Dempsey that he was non pareil.  I can equally say that Sean Purcell of Galway had no equal.

Other players who left a lasting impression were:
Enda Colleran (Galway), he was one of the very great right full backs; Jack Mahon (Galway); Dan McCartan (Down); Con McGrath (Cork); Sean O'Neill (Down); paddy O'Brien and Michael Grace (Meath); Jack Kenna (Laois); Sean Flanagan, (Mayo), an inspiring footballer; John Nallen (Mayo); Padraig Kearney (Mayo); Jim Crowley (Dublin); Brian Smith (Meath); Peter McDermot (Meath); Bill Goodison (Wexford); Andy Murphy (Carlow); Gerry O'Malley (Roscommon); Pakie McGarty (Leitrim).

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