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Humble, cool Cillian Murphy has more than a touch of Jimmy Barry Murphy about him

With his graceful demeanour amid incessant public attention, and his deft handling of praise, the Oscar winner has the unmistakable air of Jimmy Barry Murphy, Cork’s original matinee idol

Local lore has it there isn’t a single relic of Jimmy Barry Murphy’s sporting career visible in his family home. No photographs of his greatest days in the red of Cork or blue of St Finbarr’s adorn the walls. No framed jerseys hang in the hallway, still reeking of summers long ago. Famously, he gave the hurley used in the 1986 All-Ireland final victory, his last game, to Dr Con Murphy in the Croke Park dressingroom that day. Not a man for hoarding baubles or souvenirs of past glories.

“You know what they say about Jimmy’s house,” said one former Cork hurler. “You put your hand down the side of the sofa and you could find a Munster championship medal. Or you might see an All Star propping open a door.”

Stories of one Corkman’s legendary humility (not a trait commonly associated with our DNA by outsiders) have come to mind watching another compatriot amble through awards ceremony after awards ceremony this past couple of months. Every time Cillian Murphy shuffled up the steps to collect yet more plaudits for Oppenheimer, he did so with an attractive diffidence, almost bashful about the fussing and foostering his routine excellence has wrought. As if wondering to himself why he’s garnering all this attention for merely doing what he was put on Earth to do. Like JBM after scoring the goal of all goals against Galway in 1983. No biggie. Just doing his job. Performing sleights of hand. Making magic.

In the build-up to the Oscars, local and national media conducted an extensive and hugely entertaining trawl through the archives of Murphy’s musical and thespian youth in Cork. But nobody appears to have unearthed any snaps of him with a hurley in his hand or even, given he went to school at Presentation Brothers rugby academy, an oval ball. Aside from his cameo in the full-back line in the stilted hurling match that opens The Wind That Shakes The Barley, his sporting interest seems to stretch no further than his enduring admiration for Roy Keane, and that video clip of him all excited as he and his kids were shown around Anfield by Virgil van Dijk.


Yet, with his graceful demeanour in the most glaring and unforgiving public spotlight this past few months, his deft handling of the praise rained down upon him in Tinseltown, and general insouciance in the eye of the unrelenting media storm, he has carried the unmistakable air of his elder namesake. Cork’s original matinee idol. A figure so iconic he remains known and loved by three names. Jimmy. Jimmy Barry. And JBM. Somebody who never once tested positive for hubris.

Maybe the actor Emily Blunt calls “the best in the world” will now just be known around town as Cillian. Certainly, evidence indicates nobody would be shocked if we someday discover his house isn’t overstocked with mementoes of his achievements either. Or that his Oscar is eventually pressed into service as a glamorous doorstop.

No matter the situation, even something as ludicrous as navigating a red carpet while being harangued by paparazzi, the younger Murphy has evinced the same effortless cool as his sporting predecessor. Unimpressed by the brouhaha. Undaunted by the enormity of the stage. Watching him, hands in pockets before incessant flashbulbs, there’s a definite bang of JBM strolling in the prematch parade at Croker, hurley pressed horizontal against his waist, preternaturally calm before the fray. Something in the surety of the gait suggesting the inherent capability of swagger without the need to advertise it. The mark of the truly great. When you know, you know. Show, don’t tell.

Jimmy taught generations the meaning of the word charisma from the moment he joined the Cork senior football team at 18, sauntering into training with a skinhead, braces and jeans that ended way above his bovver boots. Nothing was ever the same again. Footage of the crewcut wreaking havoc against Galway in the 1973 All-Ireland final shows him fresh of face but brimming with brio, ready for prime time and inspiring terrace chants. Six foot two, eyes of blue ... Dawdle a while through the cinematic version of Disco Pigs at this remove and you marvel anew at Cillian Murphy’s similar bravura, ridiculously youthful, undeniably raw, yet so obviously another blue-eyed shooting star.

In recent weeks, social media has been awash with candid photographs of Cillian. Here he is at gigs, at marches, out in public, quaffing a pint. Being a normal person. There’s a weird, vicarious thrill in seeing somebody capable of such wondrous feats doing something mundane. When we were kids, we often stared wide-eyed at JBM nipping in and out of Jackie Lennox’s fish and chip shop on Bandon Road. Agog at the sight of him, a chicken supper under his oxter. Like glimpsing Superman queuing for a hot dog outside the Daily Planet hours after saving the world from destruction.

Our hero was 45 leading Cork from the All-Ireland wilderness in 1999, the same age Cillian was when he started filming Oppenheimer. At the conclusion of his acceptance speech in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles last Sunday night, he briefly held the goldie statuette in the air in his right hand. Exactly like Jimmy did with Liam McCarthy on that sodden September Sunday when he clambered up on to the fence at Hill 16 to show it to those wearing red and white.

Sweet Cork of thee.