THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CON MURPHY.
Con Murphy was born on the 20th October 1956 in the famous town of Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick, Ireland. He received much of his early education at the local hedge school, more commonly known as Malachy Skelly‘s Betting Office. Here, he displayed a natural talent for bookmaking, greyhounds, poker, rugby and the telling of tall tales, and he graduated, summa cum laude, in all of these subjects.
His rugby career began at under-age level with Abbeyfeale RFC where he won numerous trophies and led the team to many notable victories. He was eventually promoted to the senior ranks with Young Munster RFC, and his legendary exploits in the Munster Senior Cup are still talked about today. Sadly, his playing days were cut short by a combination of persistent injuries and habitual socializing, and he never received the international recognition that he felt his efforts deserved.
His good friend and next door neighbour, Philip Danaher, won many Irish caps and went on to captain the country. Con always maintained that the original letter from the IRFU confirming Danaher’s selection was possibly delivered in error by the postman to the wrong address in Church Street!
Con’s parents, Neilus and Lizzy, ran a bar in Church Street and Con spent much of his youth pulling pints and trading good-natured insults with the customers. He eventually took over his father’s auctioneering business and helped out in the family news agency. He also did a bit of bookmaking on the side.
Con’s main interest was greyhounds, and in 1978 he organized probably one of the most outrageous betting coups ever attempted in Ireland.
At that time he owned a dog called Ballydonnell Sam who was a long-distance specialist and had won the prestigious Television Trophy as well as several other high grade races at various tracks throughout the country.
Sam was entered for a race in the small greyhound track at Mullingar and bookmakers were offering the prohibitive odds of 1/2. Con wondered if there was some way in which he could manipulate the tote (pari-mutual) system in Mullingar to improve the odds.
With another betting buddy, Connie McMahon, he devised a scheme whereby a large posse of punters from Abbeyfeale would travel to Mullingar and take up strategic positions at the tote windows before the race. When betting opened they would back everything except Ballydonnell Sam, while causing the maximum delays and distractions to everyone else trying to have a bet. It was hoped that the tote pool would thus return inflated odds on Sam as very little money had been wagered on him.
Meanwhile, another gang of skilled gamblers was dispatched to carefully selected betting offices all over Ireland to place small and seemingly insignificant bets at tote odds. Most bookmakers would give tote odds at that time if requested. However, that rule was soon to be revoked - permanently!
The plan worked to perfection. Ballydonnall Sam duly won his race and was returned at the unbelievable tote odds of 956/1!
Newspapers around the globe carried the dramatic story, and “Mullingar” became a byword for gamblers everywhere. Channel 4 Television even dispatched a film crew to Abbeyfeale to make a documentary about the coup which was later distributed worldwide.
Con and his brother, Denis, visited New York in 1979 as guests of the prestigious New York Irish Rugby Club. Con caused consternation at JFK Airport when he strolled through customs with a sleán (turf spade) slung jauntily over his shoulder, as requested by his mischievous American hosts.
“Purpose of visit?” asked a bemused Immigration Officer.
“I think,” said Con “that we might be spending a few days in the bog.”
“You’ll need a green card for that.” declared the official, as he stamped their passports and waved them through.
They eventually arrived at the Horse & Jockey bar in Queens where they were given a rousing reception by the huge contingent of Abbeyfeale exiles, and even the sleán was afforded a standing ovation.
Con and Denis spend an enjoyable couple of weeks in New York, meeting up with their many friends and relatives and visiting various places of historical and cultural interest. At night they sampled the beer in practically every bar and shebeen between Brooklyn and The Bronx and pronounced it fit for human consumption.
“A nice little town,” was how Con summed up New York. “but it could badly do with a few good betting shops.”
Among Con’s large circle of friends in Ireland was well-known property developer Patsy Byrne, who hailed from the neighbouring parish of Duagh. Patsy was involved in building Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and the Centre Court in Wimbledon, as well as being a co-owner of Sunderland Football Club. He appointed Con as his personal assistant and put him in charge of corporate hospitality.
Soon Con was travelling the world in his new capacity as roving ambassador for the Byrne Group. He made several trips to America and even attended the Breeders’ Cup and the Super Bowl. (Purely in the line of duty, of course)
He almost caused a major diplomatic incident at the English Greyhound Derby in Wimbledon when he bluffed his way through several cordons of secret service agents and gatecrashed a party being hosted by HRH Prince Andrew.
Con also spent several months in Libya where he developed a keen interest in camel racing. However, plans to introduce the sport into Ireland were abandoned due to public apathy, and a scarcity of thoroughbred camels.
Con was called to his eternal reward in 1999 at the age of just 43 years. His funeral through the streets of Abbeyfeale was one of the largest ever witnessed in the town, as people from all over the world, and from every walk of life, came to pay their final respects to ‘The Big Fellow’ as he was affectionately called.
Con sleeps peacefully now in his final resting place at the foot of the Old Road. However his memory endures, and his many colourful exploits and witty sayings are still fondly recalled and toasted wherever true sportsmen gather.
To quote an old Gaelic proverb; “Ní fheicimíd a leithéid arís.” (We will not see his likes again.)
President Bill Clinton stopped off in Abbeyfeale on his way to a game of golf in Ballybunion. Con had promised to get him two tickets for the All Ireland Football Final.
“Is there anything that I can do for you in return, Big Fellow?” asked the President.
“A bar in Philadelphia might be nice.” suggested Con.
And the rest, as they say, is history.