Magnificent Murtagh still making inroads for Clonkill and he'll be around for a while yet 1 week ago

Magnificent Murtagh still making inroads for Clonkill and he'll be around for a while yet

Brendan Murtagh was only 15 and they were already counting down the days in Clonkill.

This fella was good enough for their senior team already. It was only a matter of time before they let him loose.

At 16, they bit the bullet. So young, too young but Murtagh was that good and in his first year in with the big boys, the talented youngster almost inspired Clonkill to their first Westmeath senior hurling title in 29 years.

They came up short, losing narrowly to Lough Lene Gaels in the decider but this young team and budding club had gained invaluable experience.

They wouldn't have to wait too long. Not with Murtagh on the job.

He was soon called into Westmeath where he played as a goalie for the first while - they were that desperate to get him in there. The future was blinding.

Skip on 20 fast years and Murtagh is still throwing himself into it, still undaunted by the stickiest challenges and he remains the most exciting and influential player on the pitch. Some things never change. Murtagh is the club man for all others to measure up to, he will go down as one of Clonkill's and Westmeath's best and most respected ever players in a golden era for the club and in a progressive time for the county.

More on that soon.

It's game-week in Clonkill and there's a nervousness in the air. Ballyhale Shamrocks - the best club team in all the land - are coming to town on Sunday and Clonkill aren't given a prayer.

How will they keep Fennelly, Mullen, Cody and co. quiet? How will they break through that resolute rearguard?

Brendan Murtagh is on a serious buzz. Joey Holden is his marker, he's one of the most tigerish threes in the land but challenges like these are the reason he plays the game.

You could find many reasons. Formerly a centre forward, full back and centre back - there's hardly a number under 15 Murtagh hasn't worn in the green and yellow or the maroon and white but these days at 36, he's settled. He's found a home on the edge of the square.

The target man. The danger-man. Lots of attention and plenty of hard-hits and hard earned balls. He loves it in there.

Murtagh is buzzing for Sunday and he can't hide it at training during the week. He can't hide it before anyone he talks to pre-game. His mood emanates around Clonkill like the spray of Lynx - Murtagh is Clonkill's talisman and his mood is the mood.

"When Brendan talks, people listen," says Fergal Fagan, a former Clonkill teammate.

"He's an absolute inspiration and I can't speak highly enough of the man. He's very good in the dressing room, he wouldn't say too much but he always gets it right. During the week, he was so determined and so excited to get a crack off these top players, and he had all the Clonkill lads feeling the same way too - that's how much they all respect him"

Clonkill went down, but they went down swinging. Murtagh hit Joey Holden for 2-9 (2-3 of it from play.) For the people of Clonkill, it was just another day, he's been at this type of thing for years.

"He's been an outstanding club player and representative for Clonkill. He's represented Leinster, played for Ireland in the Shinty, has starred for Westmeath and all through it he's been an unbelievable club man. He gives so much back to this club..."

An outstanding club man is right. Since those teenage years in the 90s, Murtagh has won six Westmeath senior titles with Clonkill. He inspired them to a Leinster intermediate in 2007, before hitting 1-6 (1-4 from play) in their All-Ireland final win over Galway side Tommy Larkins the following February.

With Westmath, he's won three Christy Rings and he was one of their most consistent players up until his retirement a couple of years ago. Now he's in as a selector. How they'd love to have him within the four white lines.

He's also played with the Westmeath footballers for a couple of seasons, won two county championships with Clonkill's sister club 'the Downs,' and if you ask anyone from Westmeath, they'll tell you he's only getting better with age.

"The secret to that is hard work. He keeps himself in as good a physical condition as possible, he's as fit now as he ever was. Still lives for that big occasion..."

"It's the bravery and the ability to win his own ball that sets him apart. He's so strong aerially and then when he comes down he has the striking off both sides and a brilliant sidestep too.

"He has it all..."

Brendan Murtagh won't get many headlines. He mightn't be that well known, but he's one of the best players Westmeath have ever had and he'd have a fair crack of making most teams in the country too.

And he does it all with a plastic hurley too.