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Barry Murphy & Marney Burke

The 20th century Lebanese poet and philosopher, the late Kahlil Gibran (who himself died at the age of just 48) once wrote: “When you part from your friend, you grieve not, for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain”.

An infamous week in the summer of 2019 will long be engrained in the minds of all genuine Buffers Alley and Wexford G.A.A people. This was the week when the Buffers Alley Club suffered the loss of two stalwarts from its golden era – and two men I had the great privilege of working closely with for over twenty years - the late Barry Murphy and Marney Burke. Both men served the club long and well, and it would be remiss of us to let this county final day pass without paying a humble but well-deserved tribute to this remarkable duo – a duo we watched so often on September fields and who graced this particular fixture with much aplomb and no mean success on so many occasions in the past.

Ironically for one who later won so much, the quiet and unassuming Barry Murphy didn’t enjoy much success at under-age level, but very quickly made his way into the club’s senior squad, winning his first senior championship in 1976 as a seventeen-year-old panellist. But the following year (just to remind him that titles don’t always come easy) he was to suffer the disappointment of playing in and losing no less than five different finals (Leinster Colleges hurling with St. Peter’s, Leinster minor hurling with Wexford, Co. u-21 hurling & football, and Co. senior hurling). But from there on things were to improve considerably, and in an over-all twenty year senior playing career with the Alley, Barry had the distinction of being a competitor on no less than sixteen county final days (13 plus 3 replays) of which he won nine. Added to those, he played in four Leinster Club finals (of which he won 3) and two All-Ireland Club finals (winning 1). During this time, too, he was a constant with the Wexford senior hurlers from about 1980 until 1986, while also finding time to line out with the club football teams.

When his playing career finally came to an end, Barry didn’t rest on his laurels but quickly turned his hand to administration, where he served as Club Treasurer and Manager of the Clubhouse Bar for ten years. Strangely enough, for a man with such impressive credentials, he never served as a selector or mentor (and maybe this explains why he remained so popular). He was everyone’s friend. However, Barry and his family were to suffer a devastating blow in January of this year with the untimely death of his wife, Majella (nee Dempsey), and then the family’s grief was further exacerbated with Barry’s own sudden and untimely passing on 9th July.

In contrast to Barry, the younger Marney Burke had quite a successful under-age career with both club and county. He began by winning county premier titles at u-12, u-14 and u-16 hurling and only narrowly losing a minor final. He was later to add u-21. He also won two Leinster under-age hurling championships with Wexford (u-14 1977) and (minor 1980), while also lining out in u-21 hurling (1984).

He first joined the club senior panel in 1981, only to be pipped in his first final by the Harriers. However, in 1982 he was to more than compensate for that when he had the distinction of winning both junior and senior hurling championships in the same year. From there on he was to be part of the Alley’s golden era - and in a senior career that spanned twelve or thirteen years, Marney went on to collect seven county senior titles, two Leinster Club titles, and, of course, that much coveted All-Ireland Club title. In all, he had the good fortune to be a member of the senior panel for eleven county final days (8 plus 3 replays), and was it not for the fact that he was competing at that time with some of the best forwards in the game, he might well have played a much more influential role.

But, of course, he still got to exercise some of that influence when, following his retirement, he went on to play a very prominent and effective role in the Co. Board’s Primary School Coaching Scheme, as well as getting involved in the much maligned area of refereeing. Sadly, later in his life Marney was to finally stumble on his luck, suffer ill-health, and eventually have a very difficult last few years, resulting in his sudden and all too premature passing on 8th July.

However, we can still truly say that the challenge of the ancient game certainly brought glory to these two names – and not only to them as individuals, but also to their families, their parish, their club and their county. As is evident from their résumés, these were talented men who contributed enormously to both club and county over a long period. And of what they have contributed, nothing will be lost. Through life’s long march they clearly made us proud. To their contemporaries, their deaths have meant the loss of two very good friends and companions - and our fervent hope now is that their names will be remembered and spoken of by all genuine Wexford G.A.A people, at home and abroad, for many years to come.

It was a heart-chilling and poignant few days as the two lads were finally laid to rest within twenty-four hours of each other in Monamolin cemetery. And while their last parades were indeed sad and slow, they were accompanied and supported by a vast and laudable turn-out of past and present players, club members, parishioners, and former colleagues and opponents from around the county. Old friends flanked them side by side, and the tears they cried were tears of pride. And even though an ‘ash tree’ of a very different magnitude toppled on this occasion, the sudden deaths of these two young men have nonetheless left a considerable permanent and irreparable void, not only in their respective blood families, but also among their life-long friends in the wider Buffers Alley and Wexford G.A.A family. And yes, as Kahlil Gibran put it so well, that which we loved most in them probably is clearer in their absence.

To their memory, then, we pay tribute – the tribute of our thanks, our appreciation, and our regrets that they are no longer with us to guide and contribute, as they might have done for many years to come, to the continuing life and on-going success of the G.A.A in general and the Buffers Alley Club in particular.

Fr. Jim Butler (with acknowledgement of the analogical use of Cúchullainn’s Son by the late Tom Williams)

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