The Big Interview

Johne Murphy, from Leicester Tigers to Munster, and beyond

Rathangan man Murphy recalls his exciting days on the rugby pitch, at home and abroad; not forgetting his GAA days with Ellistown

Tommy Callaghan

Reporter:

Tommy Callaghan

Email:

tommy.callaghan@leinsterleader.ie

Johne Murphy, from Leicester Tigers to Munster, and beyond

Johne Murphy

Picture the scene. You are 20-years-of age and have just been offered a contract to play with top Rugby English Premiership side Leicester Tigers.
You are at home, in the kitchen, and your mum turns to you and enquires “is this what your really want.”
That was the situation Johne Murphy found himself back in 2006, that, following a three week trial, after which he was offered the gig at Welford Road.
And his reply to his mum?
“You are joking aren't you”?
But sure that's what mammies do.
Johne Murphy — the ‘e’ was given to the Rathangan native to distinguish him from his dad John, a well known tillage farmer.
Johne began his sporting life playing rugby with Cill Dara while kicking the round ball with Ellistown GFC.
“When I was growing up with my elder brother, Billy, I played both, started in Cill Dara, at U10, I suppose I was about 8 or 9 but I always had an interest in rugby, my family, specifically my mum's family, would have been a rugby family.
“My grandmother's brother, Pat Lawlor, wool merchants from Dulavin, played with Ireland and Bective, a prop or back row, so rugby was in the blood.”
Johne went on to Newbridge College where he got to a Junior Cup final before graduating up to the Senior Cup side. During the school holidays he played Gaelic football with Ellistown, up to and including at senior championship level.
Ironically only this year Johne returned to coach Newbridge College where he steered both the Senior and Junior sides to respective Leinster Schools Cup finals.
That in itself was some achievement, the senior's victory over St Michael's in the semi final certainly had the school rugby fraternity taking note.
Unfortunately for Johne, the players and Newbridge College as a whole, neither final was played due to the coronavirus shut down; Johne says “highly unlikely that they will be ever be played now , but such is life, it is a reminder that much as we all love our sport there are more serious things in life.”
Leaving Newbridge College Johne moved to UCD to further his studies, while playing rugby with Lansdowne Rugby Football Club.
It was here he caught the eye of no less a club than Leicester Tigers, one of the top, if not thee top English rugby clubs at that time, and after a three week trial was offered a full time contract, which he did not hesitate to take up, despite his mum's initial (understandable) concerns.
As he says himself when he ventured across the pond he was never too far away from an Irish accent with a fair sprinkling of Irish lads at the club, and indeed more soon followed.
Johne's first season (2006) with The Tigers, saw the club win the English Premiership but losing out to Wasps in the Heineken Cup final.
At that time besides himself, the Irish lads at the club included Frank Murphy, Ian Humphries, Jordan Murphy, Paul Burke, Gavin Hickey, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings.
So no doubt as a somewhat raw 20 year old, those lads would have been a great help to you?
“A big, big help, I knew Jordan from school, he was in Newbridge College with my brother, he would have been very instrumental in getting me sorted, giving me a hand in terms of getting videos together to send over and chat me through what the club needed from me, what they wanted and expected, he would have been a big help in me getting the deal over there.
“I actually ended up living with Jordan for a couple of years; it was great to get that helping hand; remember I was only 20 years of age when I first ventured over, so it was great to have lads that I knew; as you can imagine. there was a lot of guidance needed at that age” he laughs.
Johne says winning the Premiership in 2009 was probably the highlight of his time with Leicester but then lost two Heineken Cup finals, one to Wasps and the other one to Leinster, that was the same season Leicester won the premiership.
“Leicester had some icons of the rugby game at that time and the people I met and the connections I made from all over the world was amazing; the club gave me a great grounding and a great work ethic in terms of what was needed and really I made friends for life and would still be very good friends with a lot of the guys that were there at the time.”
After five years in Leicester Johne returned home and signed up with Munster.
He takes up the story.
“Tony McGahan (Australian) was in charge; Jason Holland (New Zealand) was the backs' coach and Lauri Fisher (Australian) was the forwards' coach; Tony was there for my first few years, got on really well was in contention for Ireland the summer I came back; I went on that tour to New Zealand and Australia and I was then in or around the periphery for the next two years.
“ I probably didn't perform when I really needed to, that was probably more on the mental side of things than anything else; I kinda left different things affect me; I tried to do everything and go away from what I was really good at and what were my qualities.
“I suppose that period was probably one, when I go back and go through my career, I did play a lot of rugby but probably there was one month period where I would love to go back and do it all again, it would be great but I now look back on it and realise it was something I needed to learn and go through and develop and in fairness it has probably helped me in what is my chosen career path now that I am pushing on with my coaching stuff and hopefully that learning and understanding will really help me going forward.
“But having said that I don't look back with regret, I look back with maybe the view ‘if I knew then what I know now’ but that's really it.”
In a very honest assessment of his career, Johne admits that “I was never a starter; never an out-and-out starter but every single week I would have been on the team sheet because of my versatility, I would have made a lot of the 23s, and would have played a lot of rugby; between everything I would have played over 200 professional games between Ireland 'A' caps; 99 times for Leicester and 90 odd times for Munster, so I did play a huge amount of rugby for someone who was never really bang on first choice.”
Johne lined out for the Barbarians back in 2010 in Thomond Park, an occasion he recalled with much pride.
“A great occasion and then to go on tour with Ireland was something else, although it was not the most successful tour of all time as we lost all three games, but to be in the room, get that exposure, I really enjoyed and took a lot out of it.
“During the Autumn Series that year I would have been very close to getting picked, but those couple of years when I was in and around the Ireland squad were really enjoyable; as I said I played a lot for Ireland 'A' and any time you get to represent your country at any level is something to be very proud of.
“Declan Kidney was Head Coach at that time and Joe Schmidt came in 2014 and I went to the Emerging Irelands, effectively Ireland 'A' team, I captained them in Romania in the summer of 2014.
“Dan McFarland was Head Coach that year, I would have had good dealings with Les Kiss and Rob Penny obviously changed everyone's mindset of how rugby could be played in Munster so to get that view and experience of Rob's system and his idea of spacial awareness and to see a systematic view of what was there.
“I had a very good grounding with Paddy Howard (Leicester) earlier, Paddy is probably the best coach I have ever worked with, he was exceptional view of the game.

“Paddy was really ahead of his time in his thought process and it showed in the amount of what Leicester won under his tutelage; we got to the three major finals; won the Cup; won the Premiership and got to the final in Europe, it was the first time ever that a team from Europe had done a domestic double and were going for a European treble; I think he used nearly fifty odd players throughout that season.
“I played alongside some amazing guys such as Darren Gibson, Aaron Mauger, Lote Tuqiri, guys from all over the world; and the Leicester guys at the time such as Lewis Moody, Mark Parry, Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara, those kind of guys and later in my career, Peter O'Mahoney, the experience you get from playing with those lads and now trying to transfer what I am doing at a coaching level with schools and clubs, in many ways it is priceless to what one learned at that time.”
Did you ever have an inkling from Leo Cullen back in your Leicester days that he would end up as Head Coach, and a brilliant coach, with Leinster?
“Not surprised at all, even back in those days you could see Leo was a born, a natural leader, so absolutely no surprise that he has progressed to where he is today.”
Overall injuries, considering the amount of rugby played, was relatively fortunate in that regard, although he recalls one injury that proved very disappointing.
“I was picked to play against Sarasans in the second last game of the European Cup, 2015, and I broke my hand in a training session on the Thursday and I was so cold at that time, I didn't even realise my hand was broken until after and that kinda of knocked me back a bit.
“I had a few opportunities to go elsewhere around then but I had a very frustrating final year in Munster and I was a bit drained from it and I really felt that the offers I had did not necessarily feed the want and the drive to progress so I just felt it was time for me to jump out, unscathed, no major issues; my knee might flare up now and again but that was all.”
That knee injury did flare up again, only last September, ironically when lining out for Ellistown GAA's second squad.
“It was a game (Reserve) against Sarsfields in Ballykelly in late August, early September last year, and Tom O'Loughlin and all the lads were playing, it was like we were back in 2003 and 2004 but unfortunately our bodies are not able to take what it was in the past but I was forced off with a knee injury; I had to go for a scan but it was fine, just needed a few weeks rest; but you have to get back out with the lads and enjoy all that.”
Incidentally the aforementioned John O'Loughlin recalls Johne playing Gaelic in his earlier days.
“He (Johne) only knew one way to play Gaelic and that was to put down the head and head for the goals” adding “ he had the ability to shift players out of his way, that were bigger and stronger looking but he had that great strength in his body always” and he (John O'Loughlin) adds laughing “knew how to use it.”
When Johne was reminded of that his reply was “ye and I still thought I could do the same playing for Ellistown last season, but I soon realised what I could do a fair few years ago I was not able to do last September, as my knee duly gave way, but no matter.”
So what did Johne Murphy do when he decided it was time to leave Munster?
“ I did some playing/ coaching with Naas in the AIL and then went into St Mary's School in Rathmines, I was working with kids of all ages, skills developments from 4th class up to 6th year; then progressed doing my coaches badges and linked up with Newbridge College and really enjoyed that, just so unfortunate we did not get to play either the Junior or Senior Cup finals.”
So what now?
“I would love to give coaching a full whirl, I probably will if I continue my development like the way I have, I put myself in the sphere in the next couple of years, hopefully get a few pro-gigs, I'd much rather be 42, 43, have been sacked from somewhere than being 45 saying, sure I could have done that; that's the way I am.
“I do really enjoy the development aspect of it; I do like to be able to see how the age groups I deal with, how they grow and progress, like the way the Newbridge lads performed against St Michael's in that schools semi final, great satisfaction from that, and hopefully I will be more involved coaching in that way.”
Married to Kate, they have a three young children, eldest is 4 and with twins (just gone 2) Johne admits that they as a family are a small bit away from moving (away) but “we will be keeping our ear to the ground and see what develops, but look it might never happen, still I will put my name out and we see what comes along.”
A keen golfer (Jamie Stafford of Newbridge Golf Club is my cousin) Johne adds “I don't have too much free time but I will certainly be going back to Newbridge to play soon; a great club; a lot of hard work has been put into it.”
So from that day he had that discussion with his mum about heading to Leicester, and while readily admitting he was never a shoe-in starter, he has certainly packed a lot into a very successful career, we wish Johne and his family, all the best in the future, where ever that will take them.