As Fr Murphy’s Hurling Club prepares to mark its 60th Anniversary, we pay tribute to its contribution to London hurling
‘Murphy’s Muddy Marvels!’ screamed the back page headline of the Irish World in 2000, as Fr Murphy’s Hurling Club were crowned London senior champions for the first time.
Eighteen years on, as the club prepares to mark its 60th Anniversary with a weekend of celebrations in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, which includes matches at Oylegate/Glenbrien GAA club and a reunion dinner and dance, it’s a day which still brings a tinkle to the eye of its chair, and then team manager, Jim Howlin Snr.
Arriving 42 years after the club’s formation in Kilburn, the wait only made the victory all the sweeter. Particularly having lost out to St Gabriel’s in the previous year’s final.
Despite being up against a highly fancied Sean Treacys side, which had won senior in 1991, 1993 and 1994, it was the purple and gold (the colours a nod to the club’s Wexford origins) which prevailed on the day, 2-10 to 2-7.
“You always remember days like that one,” said Jim, who joined the club in 1970 and managed it from 1996 to 2010.
“From 1996 we’d been building and by 2000 I knew we were pretty strong – we won everything that year.
‘But I thought the game would never end – I thought Sean Corridan would never blow the final whistle.”
Ian Rocks top scored with 2-3 with Declan O’Hanlon picking up the man of the match award, and there were ’emotive scenes’ at the final whistle as inspirational captain John Ryan made his acceptance speech.
Many had helped the club to reach this point, and they were not to be forgotten now – Mick Butler, for his contribution to Fr Murphy’s over four decades, assistant manager Josie Leary, coach Tommy Harrell, then chair PJ Fortune and, of course, Jim Howlin Snr.
It was Mick Butler who asked Jim, who’d been playing with the Treaty Gaels, to join Fr Murphy’s, while Tommy Harrell remains one of the club’s longest-serving members.
For Fr Murphy’s hurling club, it was the start of a golden age. Just as Brian Borus, St Gabriel’s, Desmonds, Treacys and Robert Emmetts had all once surveyed the London hurling scene from the highest branch, the early noughties belonged to Fr Murphy’s.
Further senior titles followed in 2001, 2003 and 2005. The latter achieved in true Murphy’s style as they trailed Robert Emmetts by three points as the final moved into its last minute, only for Murphy’s to score two goals and two points in a whirlwind finish.
“It was a brilliant era. We had a group of players and a few more came in. When you’re doing well you seem to collect good players,” said Jim.
Murphy’s were also runners up in 2004, while in 2003 they gave senior club champions Newtownshandrum of Cork a scare in the All Ireland quarter-final.
Just a point separated the sides at the break, before the Munster champions showed their class in the second half. But Murphy’s had left their mark on the club championship, as Jim recalls ‘we had a right good go at them that day’.
All a far cry from the club’s formation in 1958. The first meeting of the newly formed Fr Murphy’s took place on 12 November at the Robert Peel Public House in Kilburn. The first AGM was held one week later, where the club’s first-ever committee was elected.
Of that first committee, Tom Ryan, Matt O’Neill and Sean Redmond will be attending the Anniversary celebrations.
The idea behind Fr Murphy’s was simple – to form a Wexford men’s Hurling and Football team in London.
It didn’t take long for the county’s new boys to make an impact on the London hurling, as Murphy’s won the junior league and championship in 1959.
The intermediate league and championship followed in 1960, and the senior league at the club’s first attempt in 1961. A senior title would elude the men in purple and gold, that was until 2000.
In 1988 the Fr Murphy’s Ladies football team was formed, and the camogie team followed ten years later. In 1999 Fr. Murphy’s became the first and only team to date in London, to field senior teams in championship in hurling, football, ladies football and camogie.
It’s underage hurling section has been another source of huge pride, and the team which beat Treacys in 2000 included three London-born players, in brothers Jimmy and Darren Howlin, and Martin Harrell.
Younger brother Sean would later make the step up to senior to further swell the Howlin family’s contribution.
It was Tommy Harrell who started the club’s underage in 1971, before being taken on with great success by Phil Roche.
Martin is behind the revival of the underage section along with Murphy’s club-mate Mark Mythen, and Martin’s father Tommy and sister Orla. Fr Murphy’s is very much a family affair.
The hurlers also captured an All-Ireland 7’s title in Kilmacud and won numerous leagues and cups, as well as winning All-Britain championships.
In 2000 when they beat Warwickshire’s John Mitchel’s in the All Britain final by an astonishing 7-13 to 3-7 at Oxhey Park in Watford, with Ian Rocks helping himself to 5-5. They were also provincial champions in 2001 and 2003.
Indeed, in 2000, 2001 and 2003 the club did the treble – the London senior championship and senior league, and provincial championship.
Intermediate champions in 1994, the club’s footballers made a senior football semi-final in 1999 (the same year the club’s hurlers reached the hurling final), but unfortunately no longer exist as the pressure of managing a dual club took its toll.
Not to be undone by the hurlers, however, the ladies football and camogie teams achieved a remarkable senior championship double-double in 2007 and 2008.
Indeed, when London Ladies won the Junior All Ireland championship in 2008, it was Fr Murphy’s Sinead Daly who climbed the steps at Croke Park to lift the West County Cup in to the Dublin air, as the Exiles’ captain.
The ladies football and camogie teams have remained competitive, frequently contesting championship semi-finals, finals and cup finals.
Bringing the wheel full circle, the hurling club’s most recent championship success came in 2016 when they were crowned intermediate champions for a seventh time.
In typical Murphy’s style, they left it suitably late, securing victory by a single point after being six points down with just eight minutes remaining.
Relegation may have followed last year, but once the club’s Easter weekend celebrations are put to bed, it will be back to the task in hand – marking the cub’s 60th Anniversary year with another championship title, and maybe even a sixth at senior.
It would be a fitting tribute.
What’s assured is that those that pull on the purple and gold this year, just as every other year, will do so with pride. ‘We’ll give it our best shot. Don’t you worry about that’, promises Jim.
The purple and gold lives on.