Thursday 22 August 2019

Genius of Murphy has taken role of goalkeeper to the next level

Tipp will need something special to get the better of a netminder who has played a key role in Kilkenny's march to the final

Murphy’s Law: Eoin Murphy in action during Kilkenny’s semifinal victory over Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Murphy’s Law: Eoin Murphy in action during Kilkenny’s semifinal victory over Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

When Brian Cody asks a question, he expects an honest answer, so when the Kilkenny maestro inquired about Eoin Murphy's progress back in 2012, David Herity said it as he saw it.

To his detriment, Herity replied: "Whenever that lad gets in goal, no one will take the position off him." He assumed the jersey would be his until retirement but knew his days were numbered when Cody told him that "change happens" at the start of 2013.

Despite his goalkeeping inexperience having played all of his club hurling with Glenmore outfield, Murphy was "like a sponge" when it came to learning the finer arts between the posts as Herity quickly realising his ability was "freakish".

Murphy - known as 'Freezer' when joining the squad as previous netminder PJ Ryan was dubbed 'Fridge' - had claimed All-Ireland minor honours in 2008 as a 'keeper but made his senior debut at corner-forward.

As third-choice goalie when making Cody's squad in 2011, Murphy was often required to make up numbers in training games. Eyebrows were raised when he fired 3-3 the week before that year's All-Ireland final.

Trained

He specifically trained as a goalkeeper the following year when Cody surprisingly threw him in at corner-forward - first cousin Richie Power was beside him at No 14 - against Cork in their league duel with the Rebels at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Murphy's lack of match practice out the pitch resulted in him being whipped off by the 42nd minute. Herity claims "he has the hands and ability to be a Richie Hogan" if the idea had been persevered with.

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Colm Bonnar was Waterford IT boss at that time and saw him excel in the forwards - insisting that "he would have made it as a forward in any other county at the time" - while he switched him to centre-back for the 2014 Fitzgibbon Cup.

Murphy would skipper WIT to success, with a series of inspirational displays highlighting an incredible versatility at the highest level.

"He's the type of player that could play anywhere and his energy was contagious, other players grow and play well beside him," Bonnar says.

"When we were under serious pressure at the end of that final, he just commanded things. The hand went up and he came out with three or four huge balls and gave excellent deliveries into the forward line."

His aerial ability as a goalkeeper was something Herity was in awe of and, with the two battling it out in 2013 and '14, he began to try replicating his remarkable "spring" by practising box jumps, but Murphy was just a naturally gifted athlete.

"Time and time again he used to jump up and catch a ball half a foot over the crossbar and I was gobsmacked because that's not normal to be able to do that. He has that athleticism and great hands," Herity said.

"He has hands on him like baseball gloves, they are as hard as rocks. You'd swear he's been mining for the last 50 years. If you shake hands with him, they are like old-man hands and yet he'd catch bullets."

The pair would trade places throughout 2014 but when Murphy was trusted to be the last line of defence for that year's decider (and the subsequent replay having earlier lost his place that summer due to an elbow injury), things just took off.

"It was difficult to deal with but now you kind of feel like the lad who Messi has taken over from. I was always asking could I have done anything better, but I couldn't have and I'm not surprised he has grown into the keeper that he has," says Herity.

"A lot of it comes down to Cody's confidence in him. If he's sending you to do interviews, and Eoin is up a lot, if you're one of that brigade that he's sending over to talk to the media then that's a huge testament to his trust and faith in you."

The 29-year-old has redefined what it means to be a goalkeeper and made the position sexy again with an extraordinary highlight reel in recent seasons.

Outrageous

Plucking down Pauric Mahony's late free and denying extra-time in their All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Waterford three years ago is a prime example, while John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer was already celebrating a goal in last year's League final, only for Murphy to pull off an outrageous save.

Last year's narrow quarter-final loss to Limerick sent him into a different stratosphere, however, as he repelled a series of certain goals.

Journalist Roy Curtis succinctly described his excellence that day, writing: "Donald Trump should forget about building the wall and just put Eoin Murphy on the Mexican border. Nothing would get past the Kilkenny keeper. Freakishly talented, absurd reflexes," his tweet reads.

Murphy, a sales director at SME Finance and Leasing Solutions, is a rarity for a modern GAA player in that he's never afraid to say what he thinks on Twitter. He's also a rare species on the pitch.

Winner of an All-Ireland Club JHC title in 2016, Murphy rarely hits anything but the sweet spot, is strong off both sides, controls his defence, acts brilliantly as a sweeper 'keeper and basically has it all. Power - who shared a house with him for three years - rates him as the best around.

"He's the first name on the team sheet in every sense and way ahead of anyone playing currently," he says.

Herity goes one step further, saying: "He is the best goalkeeper of all-time. For ages I was trying to see where his weaknesses are but I can't. There's no one within an ass's roar of him. He's making the sublime look average and he is a genius."

The Cats are in the safest possible hands with Murphy. Tipperary know it will take something special to beat him in Sunday's final.

Irish Independent

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