Paul Murphy: Army training helps steel you for championship battle
Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30
When doing some online research for the role of strength and conditioning in the various positions on a hurling team, Paul Murphy was surprised to see that Wikipedia outlined how no upper body strength is required to play corner-back.
The positional demands are certainly unique but luckily Murphy doesn't believe everything he reads online as he has transformed what's expected of a corner-back with an array of skills underpinned by his ferocious physicality.
Listed at 6ft, the Danesfort defender is remarkably agile and has become the rock of the Kilkenny defence since making his championship debut in 2011.
Seamlessly replacing the legendary No 2 Michael Kavanagh is no mean feat but Murphy has done it with consummate ease.
"I didn't feel pressure," he says. "I felt the excitement of getting to take over the jersey but I was playing with JJ (Delaney) and Tommy (Walsh) and that was a distraction. I mean JJ was to the left of me, Tommy in front of me, and the focus was on those guys most days and it wasn't really on me.
"People were waiting for Tommy or JJ to make a big catch or Brian Hogan to drive out with a ball and I never felt pressure that way to be stepping up.
"It was like I had a jersey for a match or a few matches, I didn't think it would end up with me being there for a good few years like I am now."
It's been a whirlwind five years with four All-Ireland medals, and a quartet of All-Stars, to show for his consistent brilliance but it's all built on solid foundations.
He joined the Army at 19, coinciding with starting training under Brian Cody, and he has no problem admitting it toughened him up and prepared him for battles both on and off the pitch.
A frame which looks chiselled from granite has enabled him to build up physical and mental resilience to deal with whatever is thrown at him.
"I've had tough days at training and in the Army and I've been overseas (Chad in 2009). All of those things have stood to me, helped me work as part of a team," the corporal says. "Army training is tough, and so is Kilkenny, so both of them have taught me how to cope and flourish in those pressurised environments.
"Walking with a backpack up a mountain in recruit training would definitely prepare you for doing 100-metre sprints with Kilkenny. There's a level of mental toughness and leadership that feed into each other. You're expected to show responsibility in your day-to-day work and it transfers over."
Much like Kilkenny's modus operandi, Murphy's role within the Cats' set-up is constantly evolving and there has been a clear shift in his style of play. Gone are the huge clearances from the back, replaced by a measured approach focusing on "coolness" in possession.
Brian Cody's style of "winning your own ball" still rings true but his trusty soldier is a clear example of the subtle tweaks which ensure Liam MacCarthy keeps making trips to Noreside. "My style evolved with the way the game has changed," he admits.
"We were giving this big ball into the forwards and people were enjoying that and there was great high catching but the game has changed. Now we're encouraged to use the ball a lot better and pick out lads if they're free rather than giving in a 50/50 ball.
"Your instinct is to just clear it if you're in trouble, but I think we've focused on coolness in the last few years, breaking the tackle and distributing out to half-backs and midfielders. My game has changed, you have to move with the times and be very adaptable these days."
After an "eye-opener" against Waterford, the reigning All-Ireland kingpins needed a late salvo from Kevin Kelly to claw two points away from Tipperary in round two of the league. It pleases Murphy that they can get the job done without their marquee players.
The 27-year-old believes Cody's constant emphasis on the "next match" eliminates complacency and with chances to impress at a premium, players are always chomping at the bit. "There are a lot of lads there ready to take your jersey and, that keeps you on your toes. If I do lower my standards in any way I know someone will push me out," he says.
Last year's beaten finalists Galway visit Nowlan Park tomorrow but a familiar foe will be absent. Anthony Cunningham and Cody forged quite the rivalry in recent years but he will now be faced by Micheál Donoghue, who sets out on the journey few have prospered in as he plots the downfall of Kilkenny.
Claims of their demise after 2013's quarter-final defeat to Cork were grossly exaggerated and Kilkenny have remained top of the tree. That winning feeling drives Murphy and Kilkenny; they refuse to take the easy option and give in to the common consensus.
"We feel like, 'What's the point in training if you're not going to be winning it?'," he says. "We enjoy winning, it feeds great nights and if you're not winning you won't be enjoying it as much.
"We want to train hard, we want to ask the hard questions of each other, we want to go out and win matches regardless if people think we shouldn't be winning because lads are retired or not.
"Are we going to let the easy answer be the easy answer and not win again? We believe as much this year that the panel in 2016 is as good as any other year and that we can we win an All-Ireland. It's up to us to do the same hard work like all those lads did in the past.
"We enjoy the journey and we enjoy the destination. It's not a novelty for us and we don't want it to become a novelty either. There's plenty of teams out there that'll be quick to take it off you if you think like that."
Still bucking the trend, still answering the hard questions and, with Murphy in tow, Kilkenny are in safe hands.