Tuesday 17 September 2019

Forewarned and forearmed, Murphy will bring his military training into pitch battle

Paul Murphy: ‘Anybody who’s done induction training in the Army knows it’s physically challenging. But mentally it’s more challenging’. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Murphy: ‘Anybody who’s done induction training in the Army knows it’s physically challenging. But mentally it’s more challenging’. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

As a 21-year-old, Paul Murphy stood on Hill 16 and watched Kilkenny's drive for five run into a Tipperary ambush in 2010. He had been on the fringes of the Kilkenny squad for a couple of years but had been cut after the league that season.

Still, he hadn't given up on his dream. So much so that he went straight home afterwards rather than drown his sorrows in the pub.

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"A fella texted me and said there was a lift home and I just said, 'You know what, no. I am going to leave it off tonight', I had my few pints earlier in the day.

"I knew there would be fitness tests around December-January time because I had done them in previous years. So I made it an early goal to lay down a marker. There was a window there where you could go: 'Bang, there you are Brian (Cody).' And that was my mindset really. You have a few months here to separate yourself from the pack."

Murphy is not so self-important to suggest that it was his epiphany moment, but the 2010 final was a turning point in his career. "Kilkenny were beaten that day but I remember thinking I would have loved to be down there on the pitch being part of it. After the match I said to myself I was going back at it. Make all the sacrifices that I had to make and if it doesn't work out you can say to yourself then I have done everything I could have done."

The following September Murphy marched behind the Artane Band and stared up at the fans on Hill 16 on All-Ireland final Sunday. And better still, Kilkenny reclaimed the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

"It was a brilliant feeling to walk around and look back up at the Hill and go, 'Jaysus, I have repaid myself for what I had said on the Hill the previous year'."

Murphy has experienced mostly good days in Croke Park - winning three more Celtic Crosses in 2012, 2014 and 2015. But the Cats were on the receiving end of a hiding from Tipperary in the 2016 decider. Their full-back line included Murphy and Joey Holden, who will be in action this afternoon, were taken for 2-15 from play by Bubbles O'Dwyer, Séamus Callanan and John McGrath.

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"It was the first All-Ireland final I had lost and I looked at my own performance. Certainly the (Kilkenny) full-back line were singled out and Tipperary had a great day - particularly their full-forward line. But analytically you look back as a player and say was it a simple case of the full-back line or us as a team. You analyse these things and see where we can go forward. It didn't knock my confidence. It didn't knock Joey Holden's confidence. We were disappointed certainly.

"What do you do? Do you suddenly just pack it in and go, 'That's it, I don't want that to happen again' or do you go, 'Do you know what, this is what I signed myself up for and I'm going to go at it again?' It was a very disappointing day, absolutely. But it's part of sport really. These things can happen."

Aside from hurling, the other constant in Murphy's life for close to a decade has been his career in the Army. Initially, he thought about joining the Gardaí, but he ended up in the Defence Forces instead.

A Danesfort clubmate Fergal Purcell, who was in the Army press office at the time, suggested he look at joining the Defence Forces as a career option.

"That was really my starting point and I found very quickly that it was what I enjoyed doing. I really enjoyed the training, the physical challenge of it and the chance to go overseas. These were things that really interested me. I had no background in it whatsoever. I was literally going off on my own and taking on an adventure - that's what it was really at the start - and it's really developed me for inter-county hurling

"Anybody who's done induction training in the Army, be it in the cadets or boot training, knows it's physically challenging. But mentally it's more challenging. You have someone on your case from the very start of the day to the very end."

Murphy is now a commissioned officer, with the rank of Lieutenant, having successfully completed a year-long officer training course in the Curragh Camp last year.

It was only the tenth time since the foundation of the State that the course was run. "A lot of people applied and there was a rigorous selection process as well. It was very challenging. I was fortunate to get on the course which I saw as a great opportunity."

As a result of his promotion, Murphy is likely to be posted to the Lebanon on peace-keeping duties in November. He previously served in Chad which was an interesting experience for the then teenager from rural Kilkenny.

"The African trips are a different ball game altogether because we were in sub-Saharan Africa and there is nothing out there. As a 19-year-old, you couldn't be any further from what you know. Mobile phones weren't really on the go at the time. They are the more challenging missions because there is a much better up set-up in Lebanon with shops and communities."

Still, needs must and while he was serving in Chad he and his army buddies converted a piece of sandy ground into a makeshift 60-metre long pitch which they called Croke Park. "It was far from it but it was our Croke Park at the time anyway," he says.

On the field, Murphy has had to change his game since first breaking into the Kilkenny team.

"Then the emphasis was just on the long ball," he says. "If you had the ball, you cleared it and it was up to the forwards to go and win it. There wasn't much concern about keeping possession. You fought your corner and stayed there. The emphasis now is on maintaining possession and you try and lower the amount of long clearances you have."

The other big change, he notes, is that regardless of what number is on your jersey, you have a licence to pop up anywhere on the pitch. "The game (against Wexford) in Wexford Park was a free-flowing game. I found myself at corner-forward at one stage. You have to follow the play and go where you are needed, which is a big thing now. Decision-making is a big thing . . . and how you use the ball when you have it."

Today, Murphy features in his first All-Ireland final since that forgettable day in 2016 - forewarned and forearmed.

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