The life of Bryan

After five years on the Kerry panel, Bryan Murphy is ready for the step up to the next level of competition, writes Damian Stack

Kerry star Bryan Murphy in action against Westmeath’s Alan Devine during the National Hurling League
Kerry star Bryan Murphy in action against Westmeath’s Alan Devine during the National Hurling League

Out there he was just the same as everybody else. Out there he was just another working stiff, free to go about his day without people coming up to talk hurling.

A Kerry player free to walk the streets of Killarney unmolested. Unthinkable for a footballer in this football mad county, just another day in the life of a hurler.

It wasn't so much that people didn't know that he was a hurler - and a fine one at that - it was likely more that it just didn't register. Outside the north Kerry heartlands it rarely does. Something very special needs to happen for it to do so.

Gaining promotion to hurling's top table, beating Antrim in dramatic circumstances along the way, that just might be the kind of thing to punch through and make an impact. And so it did.

Ever since then it's been a topic of conversation. There's congratulations and claps on the back. You'd expect it in Kilmoyley, but Killarney? That's a little out of the ordinary. A very welcome change for the norm it is too.

Too often Kerry hurlers toil in anonymity. The passion is real, the hard-work is real, the blood, sweat and tears equally so. They do what they do and they hurl at a level far higher than most people realise and they do it all with at most a couple of hundred people in the stands. That's real commitment.

For those guys, for guys like Bryan Murphy, to get a little taste of what it might be like to have that kind of recognition and adulation is well deserved. Well deserved and, perhaps, a little shock to the system (even if a pleasant one).

"You can't let it go to your head," Murphy says quite emphatically.

After last year's disappointment he knows that feet must be kept firmly on the ground. They must and, yet, there has to be a moment or two to enjoy the fruits of his and his team mate's labour.

Labour being the operative work. Unpaid labour, but labour nevertheless. The level of preparations undertaken by the Kerry hurlers this year go beyond even those of last year and last year's squad was thought to be one of the best prepared Kerry hurling squads ever.

It's professionalism in all but name. Just as it is for the footballers, it is for the hurlers. It's a word the players and management return to time and again. Without it they wouldn't be where they are now and they know it.

"I think things are just stepping it up year on year," the Causeway man explains.

"You have to if you want to keep up with the top counties. This year now the professionalism is unreal. Damien Ryall is our fitness trainer now and he's taken it to an absolutely new level. Eamonn [Kelly] has everything done to a T, everything, the smallest things he has done to a T.

"We have a stats man now, John Lucid, he does a great job, but you really have to if you want to be competing with the top counties. You can't have fellas going out drinking, not turning up to training, fellas have to be doing their own bit as well outside of the training sessions and they are.

"We've a very tight knit panel, we've 25/26 fellas now and every fella, there's not one fella who doesn't talk to another guy. We're all best friends, we're like brothers on the field."

And off it too. All these players, these brothers, are assigned to leadership groups of five players, with one selected as leader. It's that player's responsibility to ensure everybody in his group turns up to gym sessions. He is his brothers' keeper.

"That's a brilliant way of doing it. If one fella doesn't go, Eamonn knows. Everybody is in it for his own and for the team. If you're not doing it you're going to see it on the training field, you'll be falling behind."

Nobody wants to fall behind, nobody wants to miss out, everybody wants to play. They want to play league finals, promotion play-offs, Christy Ring Cup finals. They're pushing, constantly pushing for more.

For Murphy that's what it's about. It's about Clare and Limerick. It's about testing yourself against the very best. Having won a Christy Ring Cup title already, having won two All Ireland B Under 21 titles and an All Ireland Minor B, the time has come to make the step up.

He knew and every other member of that Kerry panel knew that until they beat Antrim they were right back where they started the season, league title or no league title. Beating Westmeath was all well and good, beating Antrim, well, that was the name of the game.

"There was no comparison," the 22-year-old says.

"Personally I think it was the best achievement I've ever had as an inter-county player. It beats winning the Christy Ring, which we won on my first year on the panel and we were just on such a high after the Antrim game.

"We wanted to get up to the next level. That was our aim, just to get up there. I know after the Westmeath game there wasn't much celebration after it, but I suppose scoring five goals in the first twenty minutes kinda killed it.

"It was really a semi-final. I know we got a cup after it, but we knew we'd a game the next week."

You could tell that drizzy Saturday afternoon just how much Kerry wanted it. They wanted it more than Antrim that's for sure. The work-rate right through-out the field, from Murphy at the back to Mikey Boyle in the forwards, was sensational. Forget about hungry Kerry were ravenous.

If Kerry had any doubts about themselves, about their ability to compete against sides a level or two above their own (or what used to be theirs), they were blown away in a stunning second half comeback.

"I think if anything that Antrim game gave us more confidence than we ever had," he confirms.

"I just think fellas are more confident, more tuned in, it's given us a realisation that we're on the edge. We're up there we're almost there now with the top teams, but I suppose in terms of bringing us back down to earth we had training two days after.

"We'd a recovery session actually on the Monday after the game in the pool. Fellas were just focusing on the Down game then. That's what your mindset is. One game is finished put that to one side."

There it is again, that refusal to get carried away. Murphy is enjoying his hurling, he's enjoying the buzz in training at John Mitchels or Austin Stack Park, but niggling there at the back of his mind is the memory of what happened in last year's Christy Ring Cup final.

"Complacency came into play," he says.

"We were up about twenty points at half-time in the Mayo game and we just went out and thought 'we've this game won' and complacency just set it and for the final then freshness was maybe a factor and maybe the big occasion got to fellas.

"We've a young team coming up that were maybe phased by Croke Park. People this year should be more experienced and more level headed. Our focus is just on every game at a time there's nobody getting to final yet like, we focus on every game at a time. Our focus is on Down now and that's what we're looking forward to."

One game at a time is the mantra and one game at a time it must be. Though tender in years, Murphy is not short of experience at this level, having joined the panel first as a seventeen year old.

In his five years he's experienced his fair share of highs and lows. Having lost two finals in a row, he sure as hell doesn't want to lose a third.