HURLERS FACE TOUGH LEAGUE OPENER

Damian Stack spoke to new Kerry hurling coach Eddie Murphy about his third coming with the Kerry senior hurling team

Credit: PICTURE: PAUL TEARLE
Credit: PICTURE: PAUL TEARLE

AFIRM handshake. A warm welcome. Eddie Murphy knows how to make a good first impression. We meet in O'donnell's Bar in Mounthawk. The Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí business studies teacher is taking a well earned break from marking mock papers – who said teachers don't work during midterm? – to do something he truly loves: to talk hurling.

The Bishopstown man loves pretty much everything connected to hurling. That much is clear as soon as he settles down into the green leather sofa and as soon as the little light on the dictaphone turns from green to red. It becomes clear too that Kerry hurling is close to this man's heart.

Murphy is a Cork man, of course, and a proud Cork man at that (is there any other kind?). For much of the past decade that's where his focus has been. With Bishopstown – the club his late father Willie 'Long Puck' Murphy founded – and later with Ballymartle, as coach, he's won eight seperate trophies in a four year spell.

Premier Intermediate Championships, League titles, Under 21 championships and, most famously of all, Munster and All Ireland titles with Ballymartle. Of all his achievements that All Ireland title ranks highest. "Ballymartle you must understand has 800 people living there. It's tiny," he says.

"We beat Dicksbro in the final and interestingly enough three of their players played with Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup this year. It was a fantastic game, we won 3-15 to 120, a phenomenal game. I don't get emotional after games, but that day, for a Cork team to beat Kilkenny in an All Ireland final was the ultimate.

"To win by a point too. The feeling at the end was just sheer utopia. It's indescribable. Croke Park is such a spiritual place and to win it in Croke Park. When I saw our captain Patrick O'dwyer go up and pick to the cup, you had to pinch yourself to believe you were there."

It was a triumphant return to the Rebel county for a man who'd cut his teeth in coaching in the Kingdom. After a successful playing career with Kerry, which saw him win an All Ireland B medal in 1986, the former Kerins O'rahillys and Austin Stacks player made his way into the world of coaching.

He spent most of the nineties as John Meyler's right hand man with the Kerry seniors, he coached Kerry minor and Under 21 teams and returned as coach to the Kerry seniors in the noughties alongside the longest serving Kerry boss of all, Maurice Leahy.

What does this tell us? Well that when his adoped county comes calling he finds it very difficult, if not downright impossible, to turn them down. "It wasn't in my plans, because I'm also coaching Ballymartle this year," he says of his third coming as Kerry coach.

"As you can imagine it's a pretty frenetic time. Time management is of the essence. Yerra, John is so passionate about it, in fairness, that it was hard to say no and I think it's a good time to be involved in Kerry.

"You have Willie O'dwyer, you have Shane Brick back, you've Padraig Boyle emerging. There's a lot of young talent coming on that need coaching and you know it was a good time to get on board."

That fact that Murphy knew good times with Kerry in his previous two incarnations had to play into his deliberations too. The famous victory over Waterford in the Munster championship in 1993 with Meyler and the 2004 near miss against Limerick in the qualifiers in Austin Stack Park, just two of many.

It's memories of days such as those that have led some people to think that Kerry ought to return to the Munster championship in the near future. However, despite the strides being made, Murphy doesn't feel this is on the cards. He'd much prefer that the winners of the Christy Ring Cup be given a chance to compete in the qualifiers.

"I think Kerry did the right thing staying the Christy Ring this year," he says. "You've got to remember that Kerry's pick is tiny. Compare it to my own county in Cork, the pick is like 210 clubs. You can't compare like with like, Limerick have about seventy clubs to pick from.

"Tipp would have eighty to ninety and Clare would have sixty. So there's a huge disparity of numbers. Obviously there's not enough people playing hurling in Kerry. The areas with the densest populartions, Tralee, Killarney, Listowel, don't play hurling to the extent you'd need them to. That's obviously a problem."

The biggest difference between now and when he was first involved with Kerry is the distinct lack of players from the south of the county. "When we beat Waterford in 1993 there was a fair sprinkling of South Kerry players," Murphy recalls.

"We had Seanie O'shea, Seamus Mcintyre, Mike O'shea, Mickey and John Foley, Martin Mckivergan and Seamie Sheehan... so you'd very good players around the place from South Kerry. Unfortunately in the present squad we don't have that.

"Alan O'leary is from Kenmare, a good young fella, but at the moment we don't have many from South Kerry, which you'd prefer to have."

If one thing becomes clear as we sit and chat, it's that Murphy has the greatest admiration for what's been achieved in Kerry hurling since John Meyler came on board. Impressed with the presence of Kerry hurlers on Ireland squads for Shinty Internationals, impressed with the two players lining out for Munster in the Railway Cup last weekend and generally impressed by the quality and the enthusiasm of the players at his disposal.

"I'm really enjoying coaching them," he says ethusastically. "They're a great bunch of lads. They're mad to learn. They're humble guys. There's no falseness about them and we're regularly over thirty at training. I've no complaints.

"I'm enjoying working with them. They're honest and please God we can do well in the league and the Christy Ring. Division 2 league is very competitive."

That's Kerry's next test and Murphy's too. The Bishopstown man is looking forward to Sunday's game with Westmeath as much as he looks forward to any other game. That's just his nature – always looking ahead, always eager for the next test, the next experience to learn from.

"It's a very important game for us," he says. "It kind of shapes our season in a way because a defeat leaves you facing Carlow in Killarney, which again is a tough game, because Carlow have had the upperhand on Kerry in the last four or five years. The first game against Westmeath is vital."

He wouldn't want it any other way.

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