Galway girl who will always find way back

 

HOME AND AWAY/CIARA MURPHY:Ciara Murphy is a law graduate from Trinity College, Dublin. She has played hockey for Old Alexandra, Trinity and Stade Français in Paris. She is now studying in Bruges, Belgium, and playing for Gantoise HC in Ghent in the Belgium league. She talks to Johnny Watterson

I STARTED playing hockey in Galway at six years of age. Actually I'm still playing with Galway HC for the Indoor European Championships, which are on next month in Portugal. Galway are travelling as Irish champions, and during the Christmas break I have been training with them. But I'll be going back to Bruges this week and will continue to play with Ghent.

When I went to Trinity to study Law and French I initially began to play with Old Alexandra. But I took a break in my second season to sit exams in March and then in my third year I went to France on Erasmus. I went to study political science in Sciences Po, Paris.

When I was there I played for Stade Français. I thought that we'd be able to get to some of the club's rugby matches but the hockey was based out at a golf club at Haras in a suburb of Paris. It was very different from hockey in Ireland.

It took an hour and a half to get to training, but I got to play indoor hockey there too, which I really enjoyed. However, it was a transitional team and we didn't have a good season. I'm enjoying Belgium much more.

The challenge in Paris was to keep going because of the travelling and sometimes I'd arrive and only four others would turn up. That drove me mad. But, in our international student environment, the only French people I met was through the hockey. My friend Emily Balbirnie played for Racing Club. I then went back to Trinity for final year and played with the college team. We were able to get to the final of the Leinster Senior Cup but lost out to Hermes.

After my final year at Trinity I chose a masters course in European Law in the College of Europe in Belgium. There is a second division club located in Bruges but I had decided to take my car with me this time and was able to make the hour-long drive twice a week for training in Ghent.

There are about 300 of us in a tiny little campus in Bruges and they now mostly know me as the girl who plays hockey. It is a real trek to Ghent but worth it for a serious club. We have two Argentinean players on the team who are full time professionals, while we get things like our petrol paid for.

Once they heard I was a hockey player they came looking and so far it has been really good. They speak four languages at training, English, French, Dutch - because it is a Flemmish region of Belgium - and Spanish for the girls from Argentina. The Dutch people in college laugh at me because all I can say in Dutch is 'run faster' and 'dribble left', in a Belgian accent.

The coach is a guy called Pascal Kina, who was the assistant coach for the Belgian men's team when they played in the last Olympic Games in Beijing. The game is so well supported over here and it gets three or four pages on a Monday morning in the papers. The league is full of foreign players from all over the world and you regularly hear accents from New Zealand and Australia.

The main difference is it is very, very professional. There is a lot more money in the sport here. We have a full-time team coach and full-time fitness coach. The team do three sessions a week, although I only do two, but I do a lot of my physical training in Bruges, where a group of us go running. The main difference between Belgium and Paris is that here there are a lot of kids playing and in Paris there were very few. Here there are also a lot of mixed clubs and clubhouses with a big community feel.

There is no way I would like to be a full-time professional. Hockey has always been something that complements my travelling and studies, as an aside to everything else. If it came down to it study would have to come first. I played with the Irish A side in Wales last August. I really enjoyed it and it opened my eyes.

Your team-mates are your best friends as well and if I look back now, playing for Trinity in my final year would have been the most important year for me.

It was a most rewarding time, great camaraderie, great fun and a great coach (Fingal's David Bane). But wherever I go in the world, I always somehow find myself back playing at Dangan in Galway where I started out.