PAUL MURPHY (pictured) knows what it's like to be an inter-county rookie, stepping into an Allianz League cauldron and hoping yolu aren't burned alive. So he has sympathy for any young Cats promoted by Brian Cody for tonight's Division 1A trek to Cork … but he also knows they must learn for themselves.
Today, Murphy is a three-time All Star and one of the most renowned defenders in hurling. Back in April 2009, he was a youngster trying to cut his teeth in a Kilkenny squad en route - that season - to a fourth straight All-Ireland crown.
The Cats had already qualified for the league final when they faced Dublin in Nowlan Park. Murphy, then a 20-year-old wannabe from Danesfort, was named at midfield.
"We won by two points," he recalled. "I was midfield against Alan McCrabbe, who had a great game and won an All Star (later that season), while I was dropped subsequently.
"It can be tough, but some lads step into it straight away. Others need that learning curve - I did, and I'm all the better for having that.
"It's tough stepping out; it can be surreal to be playing with or against someone you've been watching on telly for years. But you toughen up quickly.
"That was my experience. You hope lads go out and play well, but no one plays 100 per cent well 100 per cent of the time. I've no problem saying I had my bad days - same as Jackie Tyrrell, or Richie Hogan, or whoever.
"What makes you stronger is turning around and saying 'I'm not that player, I've more in me.'"
With 13 members of last year's All-Ireland match-day squad unavailable this weekend - five have retired, five are committed to Ballyhale, three are recovering from injuries - Cody has already signalled his intention to blood some unfamiliar faces this spring.
Starting these players in the Walsh Cup would have been ideal to "get them up to the tempo", says Murphy - but that option was denied by Kilkenny's unavoidable withdrawal.
"There's no hiding places, you have to accept the fact you're going to Cork and we don't have the hurling experience at this time of the year - but you have to step up. If lads are thrown in at the deep end, then anyone called in is good enough to be there. Ideally you'd like to have a bit more hurling done, but those are the circumstances.
"You want lads to go out and hurl, but it can be intimidating because you're up at the top level.
"A lad could go out on Saturday night and mark Pat Horgan, say, which would be tough; but any way you can help a new lad, you will.
"But it's also for him to realise, 'I'm here for a reason, I'll take this on and make the most of it'."
nhl div 1: cork v kilkenny, tonight (7.0) live setanta ireland