Con Murphy

Con Murphy needs no introduction to any Gael, however it is always amazing to read the positive contribution one person can have on so many people and on the GAA organisation.

Con Murphy was born on 28th October 1922 in Toureen, near Innishannon, Co. Cork, the eldest of seven children. Many of his uncles were active in the IRA during the 1919–23 period and in the GAA, particularly Seán McCarthy, who served as Lord Mayor of Cork, Fianna Fáil TD and Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael from 1932 to 1935.

Con attended Innishannon national school and from 1936 North Monastery secondary school, a famed hurling academy in Cork City, necessitating a thirty-mile round trip by bicycle. He played Gaelic football and hurling, lining out in both codes for Valley Rovers club from 1938. His adolescence yielded a stream of hurling honours: three Harty Cup medals with North 'Mon' (1940–42), captain for the last two; three all-Ireland college’s titles with Munster (1940–42), captain in 1942; and a minor all-Ireland title with Cork in 1941.

First selected for the Cork senior hurling team in late 1941, he emerged as a championship regular in 1942 and participated in the last three of Cork's historic four-in-a-row all-Irelands of 1941–4. Starting as a corner-back, later he moved into the half-back line before settling into his favoured full-back slot from 1946. With Cork, he won four all-Ireland medals (1942–4, 1946), five Munster titles (1942–4, 1946–7) and a National Hurling League championship (1948). He also won three Railway Cups with Munster (1948–50).

Spurning offers from senior hurling clubs in Cork city, he stayed loyal to Valley Rovers, then a junior club, winning south-eastern Cork divisional championships in hurling (1941 and 1949) and football (1943, 1947 and 1951). At senior hurling level, he played for the Carrigdhoun divisional team, distinguishing himself in a memorable Cork County final lost to Glen Rovers in 1945. He retired from inter-county hurling in 1952 and from club hurling and football in 1956.

In the mid 1940s whilst still playing he began refereeing hurling matches, quickly becoming renowned in this role. He officiated at the All-Ireland finals of 1948 and 1950, the National League finals of 1947 and 1952, the All-Ireland Junior Final of 1949, seven senior club finals in Cork, and several Tipperary senior club finals.

His administrative career within the GAA began aged 16 when he acted as the Valley Rovers delegate at the Carrigdhoun convention. First elected to the Cork county executive in 1947, he served as Chairman of the south-east board (1948–56), and as county Vice-Chairman (1951–4), Treasurer (1954–6), Secretary (1956–72) and Honorary Secretary (1973–6). For over fifty years from 1950, he was a member of the Munster council and of the GAA central council.

In 1942 he joined the Cork local health authority as a clerical officer, and advanced steadily, in 1973 becoming a senior officer in the psychiatric services section in the Southern Health Board

As county secretary, the county board's administrative chief, he developed a reputation as one of the most industrious, capable and knowledgeable officials in the GAA. Under his guidance, a fundraising body, Ciste na Banban, was set up by the Cork board in 1962 to apply the football pools concept to Gaelic games. The venture was a success and was adopted in the rest of Ireland. In 1967 Coiste na Banban established a hurley factory at Kilbarry. Con was closely involved in the factory's management, which supplied about 90,000 hurleys annually during its 1970s production peak.

In 1973 he stepped down as county secretary, making way for a full-time official, and became honorary secretary, with a special brief over efforts to build a modern GAA stadium in Cork city. He had pursued this project from the late 1950s. In 1974 the £1.7 million redevelopment of the Athletic Grounds venue into the 50,000-capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium began.

He was elected president of the GAA in 1976. One of his first duties as president was to open the completed Páirc Uí Chaoimh. He also enjoyed presenting the Liam MacCarthy Cup exclusively to Corkmen as his native county claimed three successive all-Ireland hurling titles.

Con Murphy was an uncompromising defender both on and off the pitch and didn’t shirk a challenge. When the British Army' s encroached and eventually occupied Crossmaglen Rangers grounds at St. Oliver Plunkett Park in south Armagh he quickly became sympathetic to the plight of their club and immediately set about going to Crossmaglen to view the wanton destruction for himself. He invited all the Irish media to attend a Press Conference during his visit and highlighted the ongoing harassment of players and club officials. He also in his capacity as Uachtarán and Iar Uachtarán, along with others, gave the protest parades held in Crossmaglen in 1979 a high profile All-Ireland status which was considered necessary at the time.

In 1980 he led a GAA delegation to Westminster, holding inconclusive talks with the then minister of state for Northern Ireland concerning Crossmaglen Rangers. Earlier that year, the GAA appointed him head of a subcommittee with responsibility for the issue; as such, he liaised with the Irish and British authorities and regularly undertook the long journey from Cork to Crossmaglen. In 1985 the British government paid £150,000 to Crossmaglen Rangers in compensation, and finally returned the requisitioned property in 1999.

Con Murphy served on the board of the RTÉ Authority (1979–85), being appointed by Taoiseach Jack Lynch, his former Cork teammate.

Remaining heavily involved and influential in the GAA, he continued as a Munster and central council delegate and served as chairman of the Cork County board (1985–7). In 1991 he was instrumental in setting up the Cork minor board, acting as its founding chairman for four years.

He was made a freeman of Cork City in 1995. Con Murphy went to his eternal reward on 28th April 2007 being Uachtaran Cumann Fánuithe na Claise at the time of his death and is buried in Innishannon.

Valley Rovers feel it is long overdue that we as a club honour Con Murphy and Valley Rovers want to preserve Con’s deeds and contribution to the GAA. We feel Pairc Úí Murchú would ensure younger generations are constantly reminded, inspired by and have knowledge of our Greatest Son. It was so symptomatic of the modesty, humility and loyalty of the man that he is on record as saying that the happiest occasion of his Presidency of the GAA was the presenting of the Feile na nGael trophy to Valley Rovers in 1976.

The following was Con Murphy graveside oration address by Nicolas Brennan, the then President of the GAA at burial of Con Murphy on Tuesday, May 1st 2007 .

Clann Ui­ Mhurchu, Iar-Uachtarain, a dhaoine uaisle agus a chairde.

We are here today to bid a last farewell to one of the great icons of the GAA, Con Murphy. I knew of Con for many years before I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him. I heard and knew of his work for our Association in his native Cork and of his vision and commitment as an Administrator and President of the Association. I had heard and knew of his prowess as a player with Cork and his exploits as a referee. But, it was only when I met Con that I got an appreciation of his dedication, his single minded commitment to our Association, his humanitarianism, his warmth and his family values.

It was then I also understood the joy and justifiable pride he took in presenting the Liam Mc Carthy Cup as President of the GAA to three Cork Hurling captains during his tenure, for he had a deep and abiding love of his native county and was passionate about its well being and the promotion of our games and ideals within its borders.

Con's life was interwoven with our Association from his youth to the very end. For over three quarters of a century he selflessly gave every ounce of his being to the GAA. One could say it was firmly in his blood and indeed his uncle Sean Mc Carthy was President of the GAA in the 1930s.

Con first came to prominence while attending the famed North Mon in the early 1940s. It was a particularly successful period for his Alma Mater and he distinguished himself on the playing field, winning two Harty Cup medals in 1941 and 1942. The leadership qualities which served him so well later in life were already obvious as he captained the team in 1942. They were happy years for Con and he maintained a great allegiance with his old Alma Mater throughout his life and had a great loyalty to the Christian Brothers in recognition of their vast contribution to Irish Education and the promotion of the National Games.

While still at secondary school, he was picked on the Cork Senior Hurling team in 1942 and won the first of four All Ireland medals on that exceptional Cork team of the 40s. Among his team mates in those victories were two great icons of the age, future Taoiseach Jack Lynch and the incomparable Christy Ring. I would venture that never before in the history of our Association has any one team supplied three national icons who have left such a positive and lasting effect on the conscience of the Nation. Railway Cup medals with Munster and a National Hurling league title decorated an outstanding intercounty hurling career.

However, Con's first love in GAA terms was his club Valley Rovers and while his twenty years in their colours may not have delivered the type of success he enjoyed with Cork, he won South East championships in both football and hurling with the club and remained passionate about every aspect of their development. Indeed, in his playing days, he refused to move to bigger clubs who sought his services and remained loyal to the Rovers until the end.

While he spent most of his adult life living in Bishopstown, Innishannon remained a massive part of his life and he was President of the club when he died. I know that their Cork Intermediate championship victory in 1989 was a particular highlight for him. Valley Rovers quite simply were his raison d'etre and the club will forever be a monument to his dedication and industry.

Of course, the Carrigdhoun Division also mattered greatly and it was with them that he played in his only County Senior final in 1945  a game that ended in defeat to Glen Rovers.

But, not only was Con a renowned player, he was also highly regarded as a referee and controlled seven Cork Senior Hurling Championship finals and National League and Munster Championship finals in the late 40’s. His greatest honour in this regard was taking charge of the All Ireland hurling finals of 1948 and 1950. His sense of fair play, and no nonsense approach made him an exceptional referee. His bravery was hardly in doubt either, indeed Tipperary legend John Doyle told me that Con was the only man to ever have sent him off! Knowing Con, I'm sure he would have mused on the old dictum of there being a fine line between Bravery and Foolishness when recalling this!!

Around the time that Con was to the fore as a referee, he began the journey which would culminate in his being elected President of the Association in 1976. At just 26 years of age, he was elected Chairman of the Carrigdhoun Divisional Board. His involvement with the Cork County Board began when he was appointed as a member of the General Purposes Committee in 1947 and over the course of the remainder of his life, he served unselfishly in a variety of positions including as the Cork Central Council Representative, as a Munster Council Delegate, as Vice-Chairman, Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary, honorary Secretary and of course as honorary President at the time of his death. His fundraising activities and his work with Ciste na Banban and other committees in Cork was an example to all.

Throughout his life, he recognised the importance of youth to the future health and well being of our games. In 1991 he was the founding Chairman of the Cork Minor Board and during his four years in this role he set in place structures that continue to serve the Association positively even today.

He was also responsible for establishing the Lord Mayors competition where rugby schools in Cork City and County participated in hurling and Gaelic football blitz competitions. This years blitz was ironically scheduled for yesterday but was postponed due to Con's death.

Outside of Cork, he enjoyed 39 years of service to the Munster Council. Indeed only recently, he produced a voluminous Research Document with recommendations for the further development of the Association in all the Munster Counties – a report that is currently being put into effect.

But it was his deep love of the Association, his outstanding authority and capability as an administrator that led, almost inevitably, to his appointment as President of the GAA in 1976. Throughout his tenure, he strove for perfection in everything he did. Uniquely, he would present the Liam Mc Carthy Cup as President to three fellow county men on the steps of the Hogan Stand in 1976, 1977 and 1978. I didnt know him at the time, but on the third of those occasions, the first Sunday of September in 1978, Id love to have climbed the famous steps and shaken his hand, but instead found myself on the losing side to that great Cork team. Having been the driving force behind the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, it must have been an exceptionally proud day for him in 1976 when he returned to the City as GAA President to perform the official opening of the grounds.

Later, when I first met Con in GAA circles, I was absolutely in awe of the man. Well I remember his thoughtful contributions from the Congress floor where he was widely respected for his articulate manner. The understanding and knowledge he showed of every issue relevant to the Association was truly astounding. For me, he was someone to look up to, someone who set the standards for what could be achieved. His dedication and durability as an administrator, his hunger for perfection endured even into his final days. He had a wonderful instinct to recognise the right and fairest course of action. Indeed, one of his more famous acts in a disciplinary context came when he suspended a future Bishop for playing illegally in Cork! For Con, if he felt it was the right thing to do, it didnt matter who you were.

Fíor Gael dob ea Con freisin. Bhí grá speisialta aige do ár dteanga dhúchais. Bhí na smaointe chéanna aige agus a bhí ag an bPiarsach – tír gan teanga, tír gan anam, agus d’obair sé go dian i rith a shaol chun an teanga náisiúnta a chur chun cinn.

One of his great campaigns was on behalf of the Crossmaglen Rangers Club in their struggle with the British Army and their occupation of part of the club’s ground. Con saw this as a truly great injustice and resolved to do all in his power to assist the club in their fight. It is fitting that in the weeks preceding his death, the British Army finally began to move out of Crossmaglen leaving to the club what was rightfully theirs. This would have given Con terrific pleasure and I’m sure he rests easy today in the knowledge that his fight on their behalf was a winning one.

You may find it hard to believe, but Con also had a most successful life outside of the GAA! Con joined what is now known as the Health Service Executive (South) in the early 40’s. He served in various grades and positions until he retired from the position as Senior Executive Officer in 1983. After this, he started a private Business which he operated very successfully until his final retirement in 1998. Throughout his professional life, as in his activities with the GAA, he proved a dedicated and outstanding Administrator who gave meticulous attention to detail. Indeed he was honoured outside of the GAA when he was named as a member of the RTE Authority and in 1995 when he was made a Freeman of the City of Cork.

Yes, Con's contribution to the GAA, his achievements as a player, referee, administrator and in his professional life are legendary. He has left a giant footprint in the sands of our time. He will however be remembered by his family, by his beloved Tess, Noel, Aine, Brendan and Maura and his brother Dominic for many other reasons. He was totally dedicated to his family and indeed to his faith. Throughout the years I knew him in the GAA, no matter how late the hour, no matter how far distant the meeting, no matter how tired, Con was always keen to head for home, his family his primary consideration.

And now, as we bid a last farewell to Con, his family can take some solace that they shared a life with a unique man, a man who has left a legacy of love and achievement and a man who has bestowed on them ideals and values that are the essence of Christianity and humanity. To us, his extended GAA family we can take pride and satisfaction at being privileged to have known a great human being who shared his time and vision with us.

 "I wish, on behalf of our association members, to extend our deepest sympathy to all of his family. As Con returned to the soil of the Rebel county that the loved so well, his spirit will live on in the many fields that the was so familiar with during his odyssey through life. He may sport and play no longer, but the Banks of the winding Lee will remember forever with pride and affection one of the county's greatest sons.

 "Ar dheis De go riabh a anam dilis. Ni bheidh do leitheid aris ann. Beir bua agus beannacht ar do thuras go dti ar dTiarna."

Nicolas Brennan