Two tough men in The Toughest Trade make you wonder
By Shane Stapleton
Shane Williams said he was “going in blind” to what Aurelien Rougerie referred to as “Football Gaelique” on episode one of The Toughest Trade.
By the end, the Welshman was at the risk of going snow-blind as a blizzard smashed up Glenswilly’s meeting with Convoy.
One thousand miles away, Michael Murphy admitted to being a “wee bit apprehensive about the technical side” of the rugby world he was exposing himself to.
Few places see more complaints about local fixtures than Donegal so it was rather amusing therefore to see the county’s most famous son released for club duty during the middle of the league - albeit a different variety. No doubt, in the space of a week, the 2012 All-Ireland winning-captain excelled there.
The amusing thing about seeing Williams take to Gaelic football like a duck to water was that there was plenty of it for him, as the skies opened in Donegal. It being a county that hosts an annual rally that begins and concludes in Letterkenny where Murphy — here seen driving a Subaru around a Clermont track like he was reared to — has his sports shop.
It wouldn’t be unusual to think that a rugby professional could easily transfer the athletic and ball-skill techniques learned in his code to football. The 39-year-old Welshman hadn’t played in a year and a half so that complicated the transition, and it must be remembered that ex-Connacht star Gavin Duffy never made the grade with Mayo upon his return. Not as simple as it might seem.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Clermont. The latter has a beautiful stadium but for natural scenery, the inland city can’t compare with the coastline of Donegal. The rugged Atlantic batters our western shores, not to mention the lower body of an unimpressed Williams using it as an ersatz ice-bath.
It typified the differences between the high-tech world of Clermont and the “old school” — as Williams called it — world of club GAA, though it must be noted that Glenswilly’s 6am gym workout looked equivalent to many county set-ups. Still, ‘Les Jaunards’ are operating at a different level to the parishes of Ireland. Their facilities would remind you of the GAA’s Abbottstown facility but on performance-enhancers.
What a juxtaposition of world to see a gear bag with ‘County Dry Cleaners’ being tossed down in the plush dressing-rooms filled with all mod cons, near the lavish boot rooms, the weight rooms, cardio rooms, meeting auditoriums and such.
To borrow the surname of the famous French scrum-half, it was a Morgan Parra Parra Parra-dise. As head coach Franck Azema put it, this was a world of “no excuses”, despite the handshakes and kisses that come before and after the maulings.
It was concluded that ‘Murphy is like Rooney’ in Donegal, a man with nothing to prove and the success to back it up. As he carried a ball into the defensive line in one of the early field sessions, we were thankful that it wasn’t a contact drill. With ball in hand, he was open to a massive hit from one of these monsters - who thankfully had been decommissioned at this point. If not, talk of Sam heading for the Hills in 2017 might already be done for.
Because with men the size of Flip van der Merwe — whose head alone resembled a concrete block — lurching around ready to smash you, it was a case of learning fast. Murphy admitted that the week made him think about what a professional life would’ve been liked, “to be analysed” like that.
No doubt his curiosity heightened at finding out that his arm strength was higher than many Clermont players. His squat might not have been to their level, but what peak might the Donegal captain reach if he was given a couple of years in such environs? A very human reaction, no doubt.
Former World Player of the Year Williams previously admitted to setting his fastest measured speeds when he was into his 30s and obviously retains plenty of that vim. As he headed into the Convoy match, with gladiatorial music suggesting the world could come to an end, the snow-blitzed second half of the game didn't persuade us otherwise.
There’s an amusing trait in the GAA where a player will take his score and then immediately turn to his team-mates and point to where they should mark up. Williams had the routine off from his first white flag. Oh he’d fit in alright, and no doubt manager Gary McDaid would happily fill out the transfer forms for him.
Murphy turned down the AFL as a youngster. Now 27, it’s hard not to wonder what he could do with his oval ball given a couple of years.