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Ronan Murray’s remarkable journey


BACK WITH A BANG Belmullet’s Ronan Murray celebrates after scoring one of his three goals against Balla in the first round of the Mayo SFC recently. Pic: Mayo GAA

Ronan Murray is back with Belmullet after a 15-year soccer career

Oisín McGovern

TO score 3-4 in any Mayo senior club championship game is some achievement.
To do it having barely kicked a ‘size 5’ in fifteen years is something else altogether.
Former Ipswich Town and Iorras Aontaithe soccer star Ronan Murray (31) is an athlete of rare talent.
Indeed, he may well be the well be the only man in Ireland to have played at Wembley Stadium, Lansdowne Road and Croke Park.
An all-rounder in every sense of the world, the boy from Glencastle graced GAA headquarters with a hurley in his hand for an exhibition game when he was only in sixth class.
As a Republic of Ireland underage soccer international, he strutted his stuff in the Aviva Stadium on several occasions before pursuing a career in England that brought him to Wembley, where he played for Swindon Town in front of 49,600 people in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
His talent was abundantly clear from an early age, as anyone who saw him play for Iorras Aontaithe will tell you.
One of those is current club secretary Harry Reilly, who helped coach the Our Lady’s secondary school team that won the All-Ireland John Murphy Cup in 2005.
“There was no WhatsApps or anything on the go that time, it was ‘we are meeting up’ now and again. Word got out quickly that ‘you have to come back and see this fella. He’s just out of this world’,” Reilly told The Mayo News.
“He was a nice fella, quiet, shy. He just wanted to play football. But when he was on the field, he was different animal.
“He had aggression, he wanted to be on the ball, he wanted to win. Off the field, he was a bit different. He was very quiet, very shy.”
Still only a first year playing with 18-year-olds for Our Lady’s in 2005, Murray’s time kicking ball in Erris proved short.
Through Robin Turner, a coach with St Mary’s with links to Ipswich Town, young Murray went for trials with then-manager Roy Keane’s club as a teenager and never looked back.
His career in England brought him from Ipswich to loan spells with Swindon Town, Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle before making the move to Notts County in 2013.
Three years later crossed back over the Irish Sea for stints with Galway United, Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and, most recently, Drogheda United.
Were it not for injuries and managerial turmoil at his various clubs; Harry Reilly reckons the striker could have gone a bit further than he did.
“Roy [Keane] brought him to the club, and next thing Roy was gone, and he was left there. “That has happened a number of different managers. I always thought he was a bit unlucky that way.”
Speaking to The Mayo News shortly after his man of the match display in the red of Belmullet against Balla a few weeks ago, Ronan Murray admits he did not reach the heights he had strived for in his fifteen-year career.
“I went over to Ipswich and wanted to get to the Premier League and wanted to play at Ipswich Town… that didn’t happen,” he says.
“I played for them in the Championship and then went down in the leagues, played League 1, League 2, and probably didn’t get to the heights I wanted to get to, but you have to set the goals.
“There was ups and downs, there was parts of my career that I got lucky, there was part of my career I got unlucky. I think that’s just professional sport.
“It is what it is, I am where I am, and that’s just the way it goes. I’m happy enough with the career that I had and met a lot of people during the way and have a lot of good friends from my time.”
In Erris, Gaelic footballers rarely totally forsake the ‘size 5’ for a soccer ball.
Ronan Murray was no different, togging out with Belmullet and Iorras Aontaithe before finally jumping on the plane to England.
Even as a professional soccer player, he had dabbled with Gaelic football in the off-season over the years.
After accumulating over 200 appearances in his soccer career, the 30-year-old joined up with Belmullet once more on St Patrick’s Day after undergoing toe surgery in December.
To watch him almost single-handedly drive them to a one-point win over Balla in the opening round of the championship, you’d never think we was so long out of the game.
Indeed, his positional awareness and quick thinking for all three of his goals bore the hallmarks of a player born with an innate striker’s instinct.
Harry Reilly is not one bit surprised that he has taken to Gaelic football again so quickly.
“He has a brain, he’s an intelligent footballer. Once you have that, you can adopt that to any game you’re playing.”
Murray won’t be the first Gaelic footballer to leave Belmullet, and he won’t be the last.
Like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the tide of emigration crashes mercilessly against the barony of Erris.
This perennial economic blight has occasionally left local GAA clubs sailing close to the edge at adult level.
Soccer has fared even worse, with clubs like Iorras Aontaithe and Bangor Hibs folding altogether at junior level in recent times.
This season alone, Belmullet are without the services of former Mayo defender Eoin O’Donoghue (emigration) while the experienced Shane Nallen has transferred to Louisburgh.
As a result, Ronan Murray has been thrust into the role of ‘elder stateman’ along with team captain Eamon McAndrew, both of who are only in their early 30s.
Should Ryan O’Donoghue return to full fitness, Belmullet’s first fifteen will be headed by three of the most-feared footballers in Erris.
“I’ve loved this year, it’s great to be around the Belmullet people and young lads coming through,” said Ronan Murray.
“Last year, they had an unbelievable year and hopefully we can do something similar this year. It’s one step at a time.”



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