It was quite a weekend for young Cork golfer John Murphy who scooped €81,543 for finishing in joint-ninth place at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Having only turned professional in June of this year after graduating from college in Louisville, Kentucky, the Kinsale native received a sponsor’s invite to play at the event and certainly took advantage of the opportunity.

Going into the final round, Murphy was in a tie for second place and went out in the final grouping with leader and eventual winner Danny Willett. While a double-bogey on the ninth hole put paid to his chances of a fairytale win, Murphy still managed to finish under par for his round and the windfall eclipses his previous best payout, €3,500 in the Big Green Egg German Challenge on the second-tier Challenge Tour.

On top of that, he earned an exemption to compete in this weekend’s Spanish Open.

I have been lucky enough to interview Murphy on more than a few occasions over the past few years as he made his way up through the amateur ranks and have always been struck by his level-headedness and self-awareness.

In a sport like golf where any number of hangers-on can imbue players with a sense of self-importance that exceeds the quality of their play, he is a refreshing contrast.

In 2020, he won the Byron Nelson Award, which takes into account “character and integrity while in college” as well as golfing prowess, and when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck and college golf ground to a halt, he was active in assisting those who needed help in Louisville.

St Andrews Links Trophy

Perhaps his good performance at the home of golf shouldn’t be a surprise given that he won the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2018 – he put that victory down to familiarity with the course from the PlayStation – and, given that the 150th Open Championship will take place there next July, it could prove to be a valuable experience.

Certainly, his good start to professional life hasn’t changed his honest self-appraisal, judging by his comments after Sunday’s round.

“I know I have a lot of improving to do,” he said.

“I know that I’m not the longest hitter out there. I’m not the straightest driver out there. My approach play isn’t the best out there. My putting is not the best, but when I stand on the first tee, I convince myself that I can go toe-to-toe with anybody out there, and I think I can.

“So I’m just going to try and improve in any way I can and learn from this week. You can always get better. So I’m going to see what areas I can improve going forward, and I’m looking forward to that improvement.”

We look forward to witnessing it.

Can Ireland secure a win against Azerbaijan?

A win, a win, my kingdom for a win. Having beaten Andorra in a friendly in June, Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny would dearly love to scratch that competitive-victory itch.

Unfortunately for him and Ireland, after a September international break that featured three games in seven days, this time around there is just one fixture that matters – the trip to Baku to face Azerbaijan on Saturday. On Tuesday 12 October, they host Qatar – the hosts of next year’s World Cup are the unofficial sixth team in Ireland’s group, playing the country ‘left out’ in each round of games in a friendly.

The positive vibes continue to come from the camp, with Kenny’s assistant Keith Andrews recently talking up his boss in an interview. “He is a visionary and a romantic with Irish football and where it should be perceived,” he said, “and I am very much aligned with that.”

Without wishing to sound too cynical, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Andrews also commented on how the performances were better than results had been but, while that can be a consolation of sorts, it can also be a flaw in a team’s make-up – ask any supporter and they will prefer to be following a team that mightn’t always play to its best but can eke out the results when needed.

As good as the performance was away to Portugal, when it came down to it, Ireland conceded two goals in the final six or seven minutes of game-time. While there can be criticism of the referee, he wasn’t the one failing to mark Cristiano Ronaldo. Of course, Ronaldo is one of the best players of all time and so such a result can be rationalised. The failure was then drawing at home to Azerbaijan – courtesy of a late Shane Duffy equaliser – rather than building on the good display and getting that first competitive win. It’s a statistic that will get air-time as long as it exists, so ending it in the return game would be a major positive.

Incidentally, Tuesday’s game will see the commemoration of the centenary of the establishment of the Football Association of Ireland with the wearing of a special blue kit. Why blue? Well, the first game played by a Republic of Ireland team was in the 1924 Olympic Games against Bulgaria and, due to a colour-clash, blue – the choice of the previous united Ireland team – was used as the back-up choice.

Promising start for the provinces

After two rounds of the United Rugby Championship, it’s seven wins out of eight for the Irish provinces. Obviously, it’s early days, but that can’t be a bad thing.

Munster’s good start has a slight asterisk in that home games against the South African sides are ones they would be expected to win; a trip to Llanelli to face the Scarlets this weekend could give a better insight into the capabilities of Johann van Graan’s side.

Winning in Wales last week were Leinster, coming out on the right side of a 7-6 scoreline against the Dragons – when was the last time the men in blue were involved in such a low-scoring encounter? Next up for them is a home clash with Zebre, while Connacht, after a good win against the Bulls, welcome the Dragons to Galway. Ulster beat Zebre in Italy and they will face more Italian opposition as Benetton come to Belfast.

As encouraging as all of those results were, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Energia Men’s and Women’s All-Ireland League returned for the first time in a year and a half.

When the action came to an abrupt halt in March 2020, Cork Constitution were unbeaten and heading for the title, so it was almost predictable that they should lose their first game of the new campaign, against Lansdowne.

Still, there’s plenty of time for them to get back on track and the main thing is that the club scene is up and running again, with the die-hard supporters able to attend.