Herity in battle to look after No 1 as poacher Murphy turns goalkeeper
ONLY in Kilkenny.
That's been the verdict among his Waterford IT team-mates – and many of their third-level rivals – as they've watched the college's star forward Eoin Murphy make a quick breakthrough into Kilkenny's senior starters this season ... in goals.
It is not unprecedented for poachers to turn gamekeepers, but the young Glenmore forward's quick elevation to become Kilkenny's first-choice 'keeper in this year's Allianz League has been particularly surprising, given how good a player he is outfield.
Despite playing in a college team that includes rising Waterford stars Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon, Murphy, a third-year student, top-scored for WIT with 0-9 (7fs) in this year's Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final.
They still reckon that the concussion he suffered in their semi-final against 'Mary I' cost them the game, even if he still finished it after scoring 0-3 (2fs) and missing a penalty.
That concussion saw David Herity, the man who manned the Cats' posts for the past two All-Irelands, grab the jersey back again briefly.
But the Tipp match was the only league game that Murphy – who also played in the half-forwards in last year's All-Ireland U-21 final – has not been between the sticks.
His college already had a top-class goalkeeper – Waterford's Stephen O'Keeffe – when Colm Bonner took over as WIT manager this year, but he says he would always have played Murphy outfield anyway. "He's just so good, his touch, his work-rate, his leadership. The consensus would be that he's the best forward we have," he says of the 22-year-old.
"It's a little strange to see him in goals for Kilkenny, but I understand he played there at underage for them and his outfield skills are still very useful in goals.
"He's our first-choice free-taker, so there's great accuracy and length in his puck-outs, he comes off the line very quickly if there's any overlap in defence and his ability to read the game is extremely sharp."
Murphy (right) was goalkeeper for Kilkenny's 2008 All-Ireland-winning minors and joined their senior squad in 2011 as a third-choice 'keeper.
Sub-keeper is often the lengthiest and most frustrating apprenticeship in sport and it often takes an injury to the incumbent to even give you a sniff, as former Kilkenny No 1 and All Star PJ Ryan can attest.
"In 1999, on the Wednesday night before the All-Ireland, Martin Carey broke his finger, that's how I first got called into the panel," he recalls.
"I was third-choice then for a few years and only got my debut in 2002 because James (McGarry) broke his ankle in the league against Cork."
Ryan played understudy, on and off, for the next four years and was 29 when he finally became first choice in 2007.
That, finally, allowed the Fenians star the opportunity to showcase his skills and he pulled off a string of memorable saves in his man-of-the-match performance in the 2009 All-Ireland final.
He recalls Murphy joining the panel as a 20-year-old in 2011.
"He came in specifically as a goalkeeper, his credentials were there as a former minor 'keeper," he notes, pointing out that Murphy's outfield prowess is not unique, especially on Noreside.
DJ Carey spent his first senior year as sub-goalie and McGarry – himself 27 when he became their No 1 – played a lot of his hurling outfield for Bennettsbridge.
Ryan won a Leinster U-21 medal at centre-back, he's seen Herity line out in the half-forwards for Dunnamaggin and Kilkenny's current third-choice, Shane Maher, plays full-forward for Dicksboro.
But he acknowledges that Murphy is "a gifted hurler, no matter where you'd play him" and has watched his quick ascendancy with interest.
"David (Herity) actually played against Tipp the last day, but Eoin has played in most of the other league games and he's obviously there on form.
"It's still a long way away from the championship and I'll bet there'll be some great duels inside in training this summer," Ryan notes.
"I know myself how frustrating it is when you're the sub-keeper, especially if the man in front of you is playing well. It's so hard to break in, but when a chance arises you're delighted after sitting on the sidelines for so long.
"David will be waiting for his chance, he knows there's only a small slip or an injury stopping him from getting back in and that's the nature of goalkeeping," Ryan says.
"When you're the back-up you're conscious that you could be called up at any minute; someone might get injured – even in a warm-up – and suddenly you're in.
"The big thing is to keep your focus and stay driven and it could just be a bit of luck – or bad luck for someone else – that gives you a chance again."
In Kilkenny it seems, the tooth-and-nail battle for positions now apparently even extends to their goalkeepers and their latest incumbent is an impressive 22-year-old who would probably be outfield in most other counties.