Murphy's era laced with naivety and cow's blood
ATHLETICS:Rás cyclist and “Iron Man” Mick Murphy was made of stern stuff even by today’s standards, writes IAN O'RIORDAN
MICK MURPHY popped up on TG4 on Wednesday night, still looking like a man who eats raw meat for breakfast, washed down with the freshly squeezed blood from a cow. A hardy bastard, as they used to say, when that was the utter compliment.
Murphy didn’t need any introduction, at least not to anyone already familiar with the history of the Rás Tailteann – and would better know him anyway as the “Iron Man”. Wednesday’s documentary, Rothaí an tSaoil, focused on the fiercely political motivations of the race, although the scenes of Murphy with his bulging muscles and old steel bike is what made it such compulsive viewing.
He was 24 years old when he won the Rás in 1958, coming from the proverbial nowhere. Actually that’s not strictly true, as Murphy was already well known at athletics meetings around Kerry, usually cycling considerable distances from the small family farm in Caherciveen.
When, in 1956, he was beaten in a mile race in Sneem, despite getting a 100-yard handicap, he turned solely to cycling, further inspired by witnessing the Rás pass through Tralee that summer.
Murphy was also captivated by the circus acts of the time, engaging with the performers, discovering the importance they placed on proper diet and training. A man ahead of his time, in other words – nettle juice, raw meat and eggs, goats’ milk and honey just some of his pre-race favourites, his weight training almost as specific as modern standards.
“All the years of hardship and training has created an animal that the Rás wouldn’t be able to tame,” he told Tom Daly, in his equally compulsive read, The Rás.
Daly’s book further details the incredible nature of Murphy’s victory in 1958, which began when he took the lead on stage two, from Wexford to Kilkenny. Only Murphy’s stage didn’t end there: he then cycled a 30-mile “cool down”, finishing up in a quiet field to do weight training for an hour, using large stones, and then, after locating a suitably docile cow, used the small penknife he always carried in his sock to cut a vein in its neck, letting the blood run into his water bottle, which he promptly drank.
Murphy actually termed this a “transfusion”, admitted to performing it several times during the race. It certainly wasn’t unique at the time, and plenty of cultures still drink blood. But it would be interesting to know what the World Anti-Doping Agency would make of this now, on the basis of their most recent Wada code, which also popped up in my emails on Wednesday.