The Wrap: NRL round 21

07/08/2013

The Wrap: NRL round 21

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE were maybe 50 photos, flashed up on the screen the way they do things at funerals these days.

The priest, father Frank O’Dea, had done a good job of setting the tone as a “celebration”, telling members of the Brisbane congregation that they were barred from praying for a NSW victory in next year’s State of Orgin series.

The pictures were happy ones; Graham Murray with the pre-season challenge trophy he won with Illawarra, on vacation in Europe as a 20-something, next to a fresh-faced Mark Geyer celebrating a lower grade premiership at Penrith, laughing at NSW Origin training.

But right in the middle there was a frame depicting two hands. One was Murray’s with a hospital nametag visible, the other belonged to his wife Amanda.

The scope of this column has always been fairly broad. To write about anything other than the funeral of Graham Murray, at St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Bulimba on Monday at 11am, just didn’t feel right this week.

The photo was on the screen for only a second but there was a gasp from those who recognised it for what it was. Just a minute earlier, Murray’s 19-year-old daughter Cara had first read a tribute from her mother and then her own eulogy.

To quote either here would serve no purpose. They were nothing less than gut wrenching. Murray had been just 58 when heart problems took his life less than a week earlier.

There wasn’t much to celebrate.

The jerseys of many of the teams in which he had been involved had been laid on his coffin at the start of the service, held on a brilliantly sunny day in Brisbane’s east.

Matt Parish had a Balmain jersey, Tim Maddison a Hunter Mariners shirt, Ronny Palmer the Roosters, Royce Simmons NSW, Darryl Brohman Penrith, John Cross Illawarra, Marc Glanville Leeds, etc, etc.

I’ll list some other people I saw there: Brad Godden, Gary Roberts, Robbie McCormack, John Grant, Wayne Heming, Laurie Daley, Steve Gillis, Denis Fitzgerald, Geoff Carr, Johnathan Thurston, Frank Stanton, Jonathan Crowe, Paul McGregor, David Riolo, Kelly Eagan, Dean Ritchie, Zane Bojack, Peter Psaltis, Greg Davis, Steve Johnson, Shaun Timmins, John Coates, Josh Alston, Ben Davis, Michael Hagan…

Some of those names you may not recognise. They are people I know – players, officials, reporters. There were many other faces I’ve seen from a distance for decades.

But for that hour, whatever it was we did that had brought us into contact with Muzz was irrelevant. Johanathan Thurston wasn’t a football star, Jonathan Crowe wasn’t an ex-iron man, Zane Bojack wasn’t a sideline eye.

We were all just people who knew him, and who he knew.

Frustrated at not being able to play my ipod in my rental car the night before, I had resorted to buying a service station CD, the new Bernard Fanning solo album Departures. I could take or leave most of it but title track, about the death of Fanning’s father, helped as – like most people who attend most funerals – I searched for some meaning in tragedy.

“Let it rain/Let the bell ring out for you/May it sing/Of your beautiful truth/Take your leave/On the rising tide/Travel slow, enjoy the ride.”

A Brisbane boy, Fanning also says “Everyone is waiting on the ticking bomb that lies beneath their skin….” in a song he subtitled “Blue Toowong Skies”.

“Blue Bulimba Skies” sounds better.

But he’s right. One day, every one of us in that congregation will be where Muzz is now. The only question is when. Football is just something we do in the meantime.

I can’t say I found any meaning on Monday, but if it’s there, I suspect it lies in that photo of two hands clenched tightly together.