Joseph aims for Olympic dream

Joseph aims for Olympic dream

20 January 2021

BALLYGOWAN eventing star Joseph Murphy says he is a “glass-half-full” man, despite his 2020 Olympic Games hopes being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tokyo Games were due to take place last year but have been rescheduled for this summer with Joseph admitting that the delay has provided him with another year to fine tune his preparations.

Having already featured at the London Olympic Games, Joseph is one of Ireland’s leading eventing riders, renowned for his laid-back personality and stylish cross country riding. 

He has been a stalwart of the Irish team for many years, representing Ireland at Olympic, World and European Championships, as well as numerous Nations Cups, including being on the winning Nations Cup team. He was Eventing Ireland’s leading rider from 2012-2017, accumulating the most National and International points.

Admitting that the coronavirus is not interrupting preparations too much just yet, Joseph said the current period is part of his year. However, the virus has prevented coaches based abroad coming into the yard.

March traditionally heralds the start of the eventing season, with Joseph explaining that the Irish team’s plans are geared towards preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. 

“We should be involved in a lot of fitness work at this stage in the year for both the riders and the horses, but we are just keeping working away as best as we can,” he explained. “I am lucky in that I have good facilities to use at home and can train the horses to a certain extent.”

But as with all sports stars preparing for the Games, that does not mean things are all plain-sailing for the 44-year old. 

“There are difficulties at the moment obviously,” Joseph continued.

“None of us know what the travel situation will be over the next while, and then of course you also have to take into account the problems that Brexit will pose, particularly for our sport and the cross-border basis.”

Joseph earned his place on the strong quintet team for the London Olympics in 2012 with Electric Cruise and was one of only five competitors to post a clear cross country jumping round, followed by two classy clear show jumping rounds. He was also shortlisted for Rio Olympics in 2016.

Born in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, Joseph and his identical twin brother Ciaran were given boots as one of their first presents — football boots. 

The Murphy clan hail from GAA football stock. However when they had enough money saved up in the local Credit Union, they took out a loan to buy their first horse, an Irish sport horse called Hayes. Fortunate to meet Dot Love, a Danish event rider who lived locally, the boys had their first taste of eventing.

Based at her home at Charlestown Stud for the next 12 years, the boys gained experienced in hunting, eventing and racing. Joseph’s first love is hunting but holds a jockey licence, has won at Point to Points and is also a qualified quantity surveyor.

“I feel very proud that my work makes me a part of Team Ireland Olympics. When you are working with the horses in the yard, you are part of a much bigger community. It is great when I look at where we started, where I’ve taken things in my sport now, both for myself and the staff with me,” he reflected.

“When you are competing in big championships and winning events and medals, people only really see that day’s achievement or those few moments. But athletes know the work, the years’ of work, hours and sacrifice that have gone into getting to that moment. 

“That is what makes an Olympics special. The training and preparation are a big part of the overall job of success when you get to the Games. As I have said, with the extra time I now have, I can use that to my advantage.”

Joseph spreads his time based in the UK and Ireland to avail of both countries’ events. He is also a Horse Sport Ireland level two coach and in between riding, he spends a lot of time teaching horses and riders of all levels in Ireland, the UK and America.

“They come to me from everywhere. I do take on a lot of coaching and that can take me all over the world too, as well as the competition side of things. But the lack of travelling over the past year has been a big blow,” he admitted. 

“The spread of the virus has obviously made that side of things a lot more difficult and has taken a lot away from me. The coaching and mentoring side of what I do is something I’m very passionate about. 

“The Olympics is one thing, but there is a business aspect to what I do as well. We have a very good system in our yard for how everything works. I have four staff who are very good at what they do. They are very hands on.”

Reflecting on the past year, Joseph admits it has been very difficult.

He continued: “I have two horses that are qualified for Tokyo. Some people have not been as fortunate as me across different Olympic sports in that they did not get the time to make their mark to qualify. For that, I have to be thankful and look on the bright side. 

“One of the horses that I bought more recently, I did so specifically for Tokyo and that was obviously done before we realised that they would be postponed. That was certainly something we did not foresee then. 

“In this sport, you plan things to the maximum in the sense that you need all the ingredients at just the right time. Certainly the fact that we have had the schedule changed has not helped us or indeed anyone competing in the sport.”

Joseph said preparing to compete in the Olympics takes a long time and a lot of planning and, given the impact of the virus, he has had an extra 12 months to prepare for Tokyo, insisting the mindset has to be that the Games will go ahead this summer and will not be postponed for a second time.

He explained: “As an athlete, you cannot allow that sort of thinking to cloud your mind. It is all about getting things just right for that time. Last year’s postponement is not as much of a negative as you might think. We have really just had to re-group and go again expecting the Games to happen. 

“As a sport and for athlete, that is difficult of course. Preparing for these Games for so long has been a huge part of my life,and ultimately what you are striving to achieve. It puts everything else in perspective.

“There’s a chance of course that they may not happen, but there is always a plan B. I always try to look at things in a positive way. You actually deal with all sorts of things differently in life when you work with animals. I try to be relaxed as possible about these things.”

Joseph is very proud that his work makes him a key part of Team Ireland Olympics and that he is part of a much bigger community.”

He said while people see athletes’ moments of glory and indeed their pain at major world events such as the Olympics, they are unaware of the years of training and sacrifice that got them to the international stage.

For Joseph, it is a life’s work that only the others competing at such a high level can truly understand.

He said the athletes around him know the years of work, hours and sacrifice that have gone into getting to’ that moment’ explaining that this is what makes an Olympics so special to compete in. 

“The training and preparation are a big part of the overall job of success when you get to the Games.

Joseph’s journey to the top is all the more remarkable given that he was not steeped as in an eventing upbringing and he did not even really entertain the prospect of making his life in the sport until his late teens.

“I’m originally from a football background and didn’t even start riding until I was 17. It was something I had been interested in for a while before that, but it was difficult to get established,” he revealed.

“My twin brother Ciaran is involved in racing too. I always had a huge interest in horses and eventing, but in the early years, the finances weren’t there to allow me to explore it more. But I knew there was something in me; a passion, a talent and it was something, thankfully, I was able to bring out because I wanted it enough. I suppose you could say the passion came through in the end. If you have that, it will come through.”

Joseph has also worked on every aspect of his sport and fitness in order to make sure he has that slight percentage of an advantage over competitors —those margins that can make all the difference when it comes to competing at an Olympic level. His extra preparation has included regular work with Ballygowan-based personal trainer Martin Spence.

“I identified a few weaknesses in my riding and wanted to change that. That is why I contacted Martin. I couldn’t say enough about him in how he has helped me develop my strength more. I go to him three mornings per week and we work on certain key exercises,” said Joseph.

“He goes through watching my videos on the horses, seeing which muscle groups need to be worked on for the benefit of that. That is what going to him ultimately is all about — helping my riding. Everything I do with him is training that is geared towards improving me in my sport.” Joseph also says he is indebted to others who have helped keep his dreams of sporting achievement at the Olympic level on course.

“For many people in sports such as mine, what some might call minority sports, we are so reliant on being able to generate funding. Sports people work so hard on their chosen disciplines, especially when you consider sports such as eventing which are expensive. They are not always the type of sport that is often in the public eye,” he said.

“In that sense, I am indebted to the help that agencies like Sport NI have provided me with and am very thankful to the organisation.”

Joseph added: “No one who was preparing for the Olympic Games for these past several years could have foreseen what would have happened over the past 12 months in the world and that the Games would be delayed.

“For now, I am just keeping focused on what I have to do and be ready to achieve it a year later than I had thought I would. That is the only mindset I can have.”