Cork's Juliet Murphy on the difficulties of adjusting to life after football

Murphy captained Cork to All-Irelands in '05, '06 and '07

Cork's Juliet Murphy on the difficulties of adjusting to life after football

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Retirement from anything that's been a constant in your life invariably causes an upheaval. It's the unavoidable end step in the process, but the one we're all least prepared for.

And when it comes to retirement from sport, it encompasses two distinct dynamics. Either you're done with the sport or it's done with you, and it's not always easy to decide what the preferable departure route is.

Either way, a void forms, and that hollowness sometimes breeds doubt.

In June 2013, Cork footballer Juliet Murphy felt her time with the county team was over. Her decision was motivated by a mixture of things, including intense training schedules at both club and county level stretching back over two decades. 

"There were girls coming up and I was thinking maybe I’m under a bit of pressure and I couldn’t really motivate myself to do pre-season," explains Murphy, "so I thought that maybe these were the signals for me. It kind of started to roll like that in my head, and took on a life of its own. I probably affirmed some stuff without a whole pile of facts to them either."

She discussed her thoughts with Eamonn Ryan, who was in charge of the Cork side at the time. A standard enough move, but in the recesses of her mind, she was hoping that their conversation would diverge in a different direction to the one it took.

"I spoke to Eamonn before I made a decision. And I suppose he’s never someone to say you should or you shouldn’t, he would be quite willing to let you make up your own mind. He would never push his opinions on you either and he didn’t that day that I met him."

Image: Juliet Murphy considers her options in action against Kerry in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final

"I probably needed him at that point to say 'come on, give it another year, don’t go.' I’m glad he didn’t, because I was big and bold enough to make up my mind."

"I wasn’t sure at all. You make your decision and I didn’t procrastinate too much about it when I did, and I said 'look this is it, I’ve made my bed and I’ve made my decision.'"

Some punditry work in TG4 displaced some of her doubts about withdrawing from the panel but, ultimately, it was a brief separation. Watching her team suffer a Munster final defeat to Kerry forced her to reconsider and return to the panel, just one month after thinking it was all over.

Cork and Kerry met once again during that championship but this time, Cork edged the encounter, with Murphy playing a key role from her usual midfield position. They went on to collect an eighth All-Ireland later that year, with many attributing the success in large part to Murphy's return. 

Image: Juliet Murphy and Eamonn Ryan share a moment after winning the 2013 All-Ireland final

Reflecting on her career, some of the details have disappeared over time, but it's clear there's no absence of memory when it comes to All-Ireland final day which, for Cork, has become something of an annual pilgrimage at this point. The bus up to Dublin the day before, followed by allocating of rooms, the dinner and finished off with a mass before the team meeting.

The butterflies start to multiply as contrasting characters emerge on the eve of battle. Murphy identifies herself as 'a piece of metal' while a 'chilled' Valerie Mulcahy sits on the other side of the spectrum.

But it's the sequence of steps on All-Ireland final day that Murphy seems to recount with particular fondness:

“We’d all stroll around together and converge together in a circle. Our selectors spoke and then Eamonn would speak. We were like a group going to war, we would just amble our way back to the hotel and get ourselves ready and watch the other games that were on before making our way to the bus.”

But Murphy's reintroduction wasn't greeted with the resounding approval you would expect for a player of her calibre. The doubters didn't come from within the panel of course, but they were out there.

"It turned out well, but it could have easily been a disaster. I know at the time that some people felt it was a backward step, with me coming back so late in the year. I don’t think it came from the players, but maybe family and people within the wider community of Cork Ladies Football might have felt that bringing someone back in their 30s wasn't right for the team. And I don’t blame people for having that opinion."

Image: Juliet Murphy tussling for possession against Aoife McAnespie of Monaghan in the 2013 All-Ireland final

"When I came back, I did feel like I had something to offer. But it was such a huge risk. I hadn’t played a huge amount of football and I needed to get my fitness up. When you’re out of the game for a while, your ball skills are quite rusty but look, it worked out."

Murphy retired a second time after that All-Ireland win, but this time there was no reversal. The perennial champions achieved further All-Ireland success in her absence, and this weekend will mark her third All-Ireland as a spectator.

Going to Croke Park on her own time rather than on the team bus is something she's learned to adjust to and at this point, "it's a world very much removed from my own."

For Murphy, stepping outside of that world has meant adjusting to some new realities. As Red puts it in The Shawshank Redemption: "These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them."

Looking from outside those funny walls now, Murphy can't dispel thoughts of 'what if,' despite winning the ultimate prize in Ladies Football on her last day in a Cork jersey.

"Some days you think you can still play, but you can’t. I don’t know, I never had the epiphany where I said 'Yeah, that’s it, my time is now,' I just made the decision. You never know if it’s the right or the wrong one."