Sunday 17 December 2017

Four-goal Banner drubbing provided perfect reality check for Kilkenny to reboot season - Murphy

Paul Murphy of Kilkenny Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Paul Murphy of Kilkenny Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Kilkenny were hit for four goals in a league semi-final by Clare in April, the most experienced member of a full-back line that felt most of the pressure that afternoon was enjoying the peace and solitude of Glendalough at that time.

Paul Murphy had been carrying a shoulder injury and such was the level of disappointment, he opted not to travel with the team to Thurles that afternoon, choosing a leisurely morning in Dublin instead with his girlfriend.

He followed it on Twitter, got updates from his sister but was happier to be briefed from afar.

"We said we'd treat it like a normal day and I'd just follow it, getting a text from my sister or whatever it was," he recalls.

"It was no insult to the lads. You're given the option if you want to travel that day, and I just didn't want to be sitting there looking at it. I couldn't deal with the whole atmosphere of not being part of it."

The disappointment subsided quickly and Murphy was able to take a completely opposite view of it. In hindsight, he reflects, it was the perfect reality check for them.

"Nearly straight away I was happy enough afterwards because I said to myself if that was coming, I'm happy it happened then as opposed to an All-Ireland semi-final or Leinster final or All-Ireland final," he explains.

"If we needed a kick in the arse at the time, well let that be the kick in the arse, and so what.

"Lads were disappointed with their performances that day but sometimes you need these reality checks to sort yourself out. It was a fair reality check as well but that's the way Clare were going at the time.

"We could take a lot from it, that we weren't going to let it happen again for this year at least."

With Murphy restored to corner-back Kilkenny didn't concede a goal for their next three championship matches. Only that frantic opening in Thurles the last day saw them leak goals twice.

Thus, his importance to the champions and his growing reputation as one of the top defenders in the game was embellished.

Since his introduction in 2011 he has scarcely put a foot wrong, with All-Stars in four of the five years that Kilkenny have won All-Ireland titles; even in the year he missed out, 2013, his claims had been strong.

The evolution of a new team seeking to create their own history has driven Kilkenny's success, Murphy feels, fuelled by players with little or no attachment to the four-in-a-row team.

"My first year was 2011 so I wasn't thinking 'the last five years have been great'. I had no All-Irelands at that stage," he says.

"The likes of Cillian Buckley, Joey Holden, Padraig Walsh, Conor Fogarty, Eoin Murphy, we're all at the stage where we were there through the four-in-a-row as supporters but we weren't there as players."

Murphy watched Liam Blanchfield being sprung the last day to score three points and got the sense of a young man determined to prove a point.

"I can guarantee there's lads who've joined the Tipperary panel or the Galway panel and they feel that's an achievement in itself," he says.

"The general consensus (about Kilkenny) is that 'ah you're not great, the panel isn't great'.

"But the likes of Liam Blanchfield, 19 years old, and Mark Bergin, who was part of the panel a few years ago, was let go for a while and came back in, he started as well, and when they got the start, they were saying 'this is an All-Ireland semi-final in Thurles, it's a great opportunity.'

"It probably wasn't their main focus but you can guarantee it was in the back of their minds that maybe lads don't rate them and think they're going to be pushed over.

"Liam went out and got the first point and made one of the biggest catches at the end of the match as well, a real mature thing to do."

Murphy had an opportunity to win the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford but didn't connect right with a shot that tailed off in the last passage of play. But he suspects having an extra game will serve them well.

"If I'd caught it as well as I wanted, there wouldn't have been a replay! No, just in the situation, I had no regrets about it," he says.

"I'd have regrets if there were five lads around me asking for the ball and they were all forwards guaranteed to put it over but there was no-one around me visible that I could have got the ball to.

"Obviously a few days after I was kicking myself. Building up for the replay, you're thinking 'if I'd just put that ball over the bar, we'd be preparing for an All-Ireland now' but in hindsight, we probably took more from the replay against Waterford."

Murphy feels Tipperary have always brought the best out of Kilkenny teams, and the respect between the counties is healthy.

"It's there for everyone to see," he says.

"Even in League matches, when both sides have been trying teams, we've had great battles - the ten goals that were scored between us two years ago in Nowlan Park, even the league match this year, league finals as well in Thurles or Kilkenny.

"One of the best matches I played in was the qualifier in Nowlan Park. It wasn't a glamorous situation to be in but the day was absolutely brilliant. It's very easy to say that coming out the winning side of it but those matches are things that do stay with you."

Irish Independent

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