David Hennessy talks to Paul Murphy, All-Ireland-winning corner back with Kilkenny, just ahead of the Cats’ semi-final against Waterford this Sunday
Widely regarded as one of the best corner backs in the game of hurling, it is no coincidence that since Paul Murphy was added to the Kilkenny full back line in 2011, the Cats have won three All-Irelands. The Danesfort man was key in Kilkenny’s 2011 final win over Tipperary, restricting Eoin Kelly to no scores from play while his corner back partner Jackie Tyrrell snuffed out the danger from Lar Corbett.
Murphy would add another All-Ireland medal to his collection in 2012, even if the Cats did lose out on the provincial crown to Galway and need a replay to overcome the Tribesmen in September.
2013 was a poor year for Kilkenny, exiting Leinster to Dublin in a semi-final and losing a quarter-final to Cork but the Cats came back roaring to take last year’s crown.
Some have predicted yet another All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary since both teams started with massive wins over Wexford and Limerick respectively. The Kilkenny corner back believes it is wrong to take such things for granted: “Teams are there on merit. I think Galway and Waterford have shown that.
“Waterford are the league champions and Galway knocking out Cork the way they did, I think they’re two extremely dangerous teams.
“I think we looked at the All-Ireland football semi-finals last year that Dublin and Mayo were automatics to get into it and they missed out.
“I think maybe some people can feel they know who’s going to win the All-Ireland at this stage but that’s not always the case and it’s certainly not the case in our camp. We have our feet on the ground really and we’re not thinking about Tipp or Galway or anyone, we’re just thinking about Waterford at the moment.”
Fellow corner back Jackie Tyrrell, winner of seven All-Irelands, is likely to miss the match through injury with Shane Prendergast possibly taking his place: “I think at this stage, Jackie’s out. That’s the attitude we’re going with anyway at this stage, there’s lads fighting for that jersey at the moment and they’ve been fighting for the last few weeks. I suppose there’s a big chance that one of them is going to get their opportunity now.
“We’re just going to go with the attitude that Jackie won’t be able to play and if he is able to play, great but we’ll prepare with the attitude that he won’t be able to play.”
Last year’s Liam MacCarthy so very nearly went to Kilkenny’s neighbours. Had John O’Dwyer’s injury time free been an inch more to the left, he would have won the All-Ireland for Tipperary.
Asked if Kilkenny have to be especially weary of a wounded Tippearary, Paul says: “Yeah, I suppose we’ve been a small bit luckier over the last few years, we got the few breaks of the ball against Tipp. Certainly if they get a chance to play us again, we know that they’re in a dangerous position to attack us.
“We’re not thinking about them at this stage. We haven’t talked about who we could possibly be meeting next. If we were to beat Waterford Sunday, we could play Galway who are just as hurt as Tipp at the moment. We’re not taking any one team into consideration only Waterford.”
Kilkenny have steamed impressively through their two matches so far, walloping Wexford by a massive 26 points in a game they scored five goals in before securing a 1-25 to 2-15 Leinster final win over Galway.
Is it not fair to say the bigger tests lie ahead? “Yeah, they always do at this time of the year. Your biggest tests are never behind you just because you’re after winning a Leinster semi-final and final.
“Waterford have been the most consistent team this year so they probably pose the biggest challenge we’re going to meet so far. We have our work cut out for us, we know that. We’re very determined we can win the match and that’s our attitude going into it.”
However, despite the apparent ease of Kilkenny’s matches thus far, Murphy is quick to say that Kilkenny have been tested: “Coming into our first match, the Wexford one, we thought that could be a fairly tricky one, they knocked out the All-Ireland champions last year and Galway showed how good they were the other day by winning how they did so, look, we feel we’ve been tested as well as we possibly can at this stage but teams are improving which is the dangerous thing.
“Galway will feel they improved there the other day against Cork and it’s an environment pretty much now where teams are improving and you need to up your game for every match.”
Speaking of upping their game, The Irish World comments that it looks like Kilkenny’s highest gears of performance haven’t been used, or needed yet. Asked if he agrees, Paul says: “I suppose, we don’t really think of it that way.
“I suppose the matches in some instances tend to fizzle out a small bit and the edge goes away from them. I suppose it’s important when that edge comes in that you’re able to have that extra gear.
“We try and look for it in training and if we need it in a match, we use it that way. Maybe this year, so far in the Leinster semi-final, Leinster final, matches weren’t as intense but certainly our training matches have been intense and we’ve no doubt that the match against Waterford now, we will need to push on the extra gear.”
Kilkenny haven’t played since winning their provincial title on July 5. Is it difficult to stay sharp while other teams are playing? “No, because you see the qualifying matches and you see that other teams are starting to up their game that small bit.
“The four weeks is great for the fact we can get a few injuries sorted out and we can get back to our own training, we can peak ourselves for the match in the way we want.
“The qualifiers can be very dangerous but our training matches have kept us as sharp as we possibly can so we’re happy enough from that point of view.”
Since last year Kilkenny lost six players to retirement, veterans like Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, David Herity, Aidan Fogarty, JJ Delaney and of course, Henry Shefflin have hung up their boots: “The lads really did leave a gap but we feel we have enough leaders in the dressing room.
“The likes of JJ and Tommy and Brian Hogan and these lads leaving, there’s a gap there for leaders to step in but I think we have them in the likes of Richie Hogan and TJ (Reid) and even the likes of Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh stepping in as well, Conor Fogarty’s another fella.
“I suppose it’s just the natural way things go that leaders emerge from the pack and it’s a great challenge for lads to step up and lead us and I think we have enough of them in the dressing room to get us over the line this year.”
This year, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody goes for his 11th All-Ireland in charge of the Cats. At the helm of the team since 1999, there are no survivors in his current pack from the team he first won with in 2000 (Henry Shefflin’s retirement marked the exit of the last survivor). Should Kilkenny come out on top again this year, it will be the Cats’ and Codys’ eighth All-Ireland in ten years, with only 2010’s defeat to Tipp and 2013’s disappointment the only blips in a whole decade of dominance.
Asked about his manager and his famous drive, Paul says: “I suppose people ask every year how he goes on to do it, I don’t know to be honest but his hunger definitely doesn’t dilute. To be honest, he probably gets hungrier the more he goes on. Brian’s hunger doesn’t even come into the question. He’s absolutely savage for the next match now, that’s no question at this stage.”
The absence of tenacious forward Richie Power has provided an opportunity for Ger Aylward, a hurler known little outside of Kilkenny, to score 3-5 against Wexford. Michael Fennelly missed the Leinster final through injury.
Kilkenny’s minors play their own semi-final ahead of Sunday’s senior game. The Under-18s winning another provincial title shows the Kilkenny conveyor belt is still in action.
Fullen Gaels in Manchester will know all about the young hurler who replaced Paul in the Wexford game. Robert Lennon captained Bennettsbridge to a Junior All-Ireland with a Croke Park win over Stan Murray-Hession’s team in February before playing his first championship game with Kilkenny in June.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people have been talking just because they don’t know the names on the bench, they feel that maybe our bench isn’t as strong but if people saw our training matches, they would see how strong it is. Being able to play the last match without Michael Fennelly and Richie Power, I think we showed the strength in depth we have.
“The likes of Ger, Ger is only one example of how the lads who have been on the bench the last few years are waiting in the wings to come in. We’ve no doubts about the strength of our bench.”