Sporting film of the day – Murphy’s Stroke

From robo-heavyweights to angry ice-skaters, sports movies occupy a peculiar and often frankly unwatchable place in the annals of Hollywood history.

Amid global lockdown, the PA news agency runs a daily rule over some of the films that might provide that much-needed sporting fix – and those that absolutely shouldn’t.

MURPHY’S STROKE (1980)

Summary

Pierce Brosnan took his first major acting role playing trainer Edward O'Grady before going on to land the part of James Bond
Pierce Brosnan took his first major acting role, playing trainer Edward O’Grady, before going on to land the part of James Bond (Michael Stephens/PA)

The film is based on the true story of an audacious gamble which was almost pulled off by millionaire Cork-based businessman Tony Murphy. His plan was to switch an ordinary horse for the promising Gay Future and run it in a low-level race at Cartmel in Cumbria. Bets were to be placed in doubles and trebles with two other horses trained by Anthony Collins, based in Scotland, but there was never an intention of running the other two (they never left the yard, a decision which would come back to haunt the crew) meaning all wagers would be settled as single win bets on Gay Future.

Cast

Niall Toibin played the role of Tony Murphy, the brains behind the coup
Niall Toibin played the role of Tony Murphy, the brains behind the coup (Chris Bacon/PA)

The brains behind the plot was Tony Murphy, played by famous Irish actor Niall Toibin. Toibin, also a comedian, enjoyed a long and successful career which included TV hits Brideshead Revisited and Ballykissangel as well as big-screen belters Far And Away (with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) and Veronica Guerin – in which he starred alongside Cate Blanchett. He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the Irish Film and Television Academy in 2011. Toibin was 89 when he died in 2019. Pierce Brosnan was almost unheard of when he landed his role as trainer Edward O’Grady, before he went on to star in the likes of Mrs Doubtfire, Dante’s Peak and The Thomas Crown Affair as well as four outings as James Bond. The part of Anthony Collins was played by James Donnelly – who had appeared in The Avengers, Coronation Street and Z Cars.

Did you know?

A 39-year-old Anthony (Tony) Collins leaving Preston Crown Court
A 39-year-old Anthony (Tony) Collins leaving Preston Crown Court (PA Archive)

In 2014 Cartmel racecourse celebrated the anniversary of the coup by inviting Anthony Collins to the track to tell of his part in the plot. While many would have shied away from the publicity, Collins proclaimed: “I don’t regret it. I’ve done worse in my life.”

Review

Tony Murphy, the brains behind the plans
Tony Murphy, the brains behind the plans (PA Archive)

Murphy’s Stroke is thoroughly enjoyable, and an interest in horse racing is far from essential to agree. A short movie at just over 70 minutes, you might find it hard to believe it could happen if you did not already know that it had. The plan involves switching horses on the M6, blocking the one and only phone line at Cartmel racecourse and taking the bookies to the cleaners. It would have worked perfectly if Collins had not decided to leave the two non-runners at his yard all afternoon, a fact his housekeeper let slip to an inquisitive journalist. That prevented the bookmakers from paying out and led to Murphy and Collins being convicted at Preston Crown Court and barred from British racecourses for 10 years. To this day, O’Grady refuses to talk about his part in the plan.

Memorable quote

“We didn’t do it for the money – we did it for the craic”

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