Living the dream

Paul Murphy, who won four All-Irelands with Brian Cody’s Cats, has announced he has hung up his inter-county boots. He told David Hennessy about it was like joining that Kilkenny panel, his best and toughest days wearing the black and amber and being in the Lebanon on peacekeeping duty when the Covid-19 crisis started.

Paul Murphy, four-time All-Ireland-winning corner back and a mainstay of Brian Cody’s backline for almost a decade, announced his retirement from inter-county hurling in January.

Part of Brian Cody’s panel since 2011, The Danesfort man’s career honours also include four Leinster titles, four All-Stars and three National Leagues.

Murphy, 32, had a dream debut season in 2011, winning the Leinster and All-Ireland titles and an All-Star award at right corner-back when Kilkenny defeated Tipperary.

A tenacious marker and superb in the air, he would again lift the Liam MacCarthy and be named an All-Star in 2012 when Kilkenny would defend their crown defeating Galway after a replay.

Murphy was also nominated for the Hurler of the Year award in 2012 and was RTÉ’s choice at No 2 in their hurling team of the last decade.

Kilkenny would win further Liam McCarthy Cups and All-Stars in 2014 and 2015 with Murphy a mainstay of the defence.

Paul also played in the Cats’ 2016 and 2019 final defeats, the latter being his final championship appearance.
Paul told The Irish World: “It’s just been brilliant with people sending nice messages and basically saying thanks for all the years. It’s been humbling and a very nice way to end everything.

“I got a lot of messages from lads I would have soldiered with for a good few years and lucky enough to win All-Irelands with. Lads took the time to send a quick message wishing me the best of luck. It kinda has its own resonance with you when they send you messages. You really appreciate it considering the calibre of lads that were sending me texts.

“It was not the easiest decision but I suppose I thought about it over the few months. Look, there’s a lot of young lads coming through there at the moment. I think the most important thing when you’re coming to your decision is to say that you’re happy with it and once you’ve made it one way or the other. I took my time after the games were over and just came to the decision. I was very happy with the decision and happy to stand over what I decided in the end. It’s not easy but I’m happy with what I decided.”

How did the boss, eleven-time All-Ireland-winning manager Brian Cody, react to Paul’s news? “It was a good conversation. It wasn’t much longer than a minute or two of a phone call. He was very appreciative. He understood my situation. I just told him, ‘Look, I’ve made my decision’. And he said nice things on the phone to me and just thanked me for my time and my efforts over the years. I was very appreciative of what he said. That was it. Brian understands these things. He’s been there a long time. He’s seen a lot of players come and go so I wasn’t the first to give him the call, I won’t be the last either so it’s something he’s probably used to at this stage.”

The Danefort hurler made his senior championship debut for the Cats in the Walsh Cup 2009 but failed to make Cody’s League panel.

But after winning an Intermediate All-Ireland the following year, he was recalled to the senior panel for the 2011 season.

Playing in a great Kilkenny team that included greats like JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin, Eddie Brennan and TJ Reid, Murphy nailed down a corner-back position as Kilkenny won the Leinster and All-Ireland crowns and he picked up the first of four All-Star awards.

“Before you get on any panel, you just hope to win an All-Ireland and anything after that really is a bonus. I was lucky enough to not only win one but to win four.

“I was looking at so many of these players over the years who would have been winning All-Irelands and when I came on the panel, they probably had five or six All-Irelands at that stage.

“I had seen them from a supporter’s point of view, now I was getting to play with them. I suppose it’s a special memory in that regard.

“I would have held these lads in such high regard for so many years and then managed to get on a team with them and win All-Irelands.

“I think the first does hold a special place. It’s the one where you finally arrive and you manage to do the thing you’ve been trying to do for so long. When someone asks you what your favourite one is the first one always pops into your head.

“After that I don’t know but the first one certainly has a special place. It always will. It’s hard to look past the first one in terms of the most special one.”

However, Murphy was joining a Kilkenny panel that had been deeply wounded in 2010 when Tipperary denied them of their five-in-a-row. Cody’s Cats were coming in for some criticism with many saying their dominance was over.

“I suppose a lot of lads would have been hurting from 2010 definitely. I had been involved in training panels a few years previously but 2011 being the first year I was fully on the panel I focused my mind on wanting to win my first All-Ireland but there was obviously other lads there who were disappointed with 2010 and just saw 2011 as a great opportunity to right the wrongs.

Paul won his first All-Ireland in 2011 when the Cats defeated defending champions Tipperary 2-17 to 1-16.
Cody’s Kilkenny panel was rich in talent in the first half of that decade. When players like Eddie Brennan and Henry Shefflin called it a day, new leaders emerged in TJ Reid and Richie Hogan and when Noel Hickey retired, JJ Delaney slotted into his full-back berth.

Who were the greatest players Paul played with?

“Henry springs to mind straightaway. It’s often a very hard thing to pick because there’s so many great players. The likes of JJ, Tommy, Jackie, Noel Hickey, all of those lads were still knocking around.

“The likes of Richie Power, TJ, RIchie Hogan. There’s so many great players there. Henry, just in terms of his dedication through the years and what he was able to do on the pitch- His record speaks for itself in terms of ten All-Irelands and I think maybe eleven All Stars. You don’t accidentally win them, you don’t win them by playing badly. I think you would have to look towards Henry as being the greatest that I would have played with.

“I would certainly have marked him at different times. I would have marked him quite a bit but the way I would have seen it, ‘The more times you get to mark him the more your game will come on and improve’. Any chance I got to mark him I would have seen it as a great thing.”

And who would have been his toughest opponents? “I would have marked John Mullane in my first year. John was a handful. He was just so electric when he got the ball and his speed was something else. He wasn’t afraid to take shots from the sidelines and he was a very confident player so he was capable of doing anything and doing it at any time. He wasn’t afraid of who he was marking or anyone. John was obviously a very tough player.

“I used to be marking Callanan as well. Seamus has great speed, great balance and is a very dangerous forward. Conor Whelan from Galway would have been a great forward as well, very strong hurler.

“Often as a back, you look for a weakness in a forward’s game to exploit but with Conor Whelan it’s very hard to find that weakness. Those three players were up there with the three toughest forwards I would have had to mark.”

In addition to winning four All-Irelands, Paul has also been on the losing side in two Liam McCarthy deciders, both to Tipperary, in 2016 and 2019.

Does he look back on these wistfully? “Not really to be honest. You dedicate ten years to it and I suppose a lot of people only see the championships and the league matches but really it’s ten years without a break of continuously training behind the scenes, you’re missing days away, you’re missing holidays away. Whatever happens in that time, it happened and I think it would be silly enough when you finish up to look back and wonder for the rest of your days, ‘What if?’

“Any time you step out on the pitch you’re taking a chance you’re going to lose a match. You’re hoping you’re going to win the match but whatever happens happens and you move on, forget about it, learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on it and be beating yourself up for ten years or twenty years wondering what if.

“My attitude would very much be, ‘It’s water under the bridge for me and I’m carrying on and I’m looking for the next door opening instead of looking at the last door that closed.”

Paul may be disappointed with the last year of his senior career. He was on the bench for the last campaign when Kilkenny lost out to Waterford in the semi-final.

“I suppose nobody really knows how your career is going to pan out. I suppose when you find yourself on the subs bench- Nobody wants to be there, everybody wants to be playing but I’m a realist. You kind of realise if you stay at this long enough you will probably start on the bench and you will probably finish on the bench. Whatever happens in between if you get onto team is brilliant. If you’re around long enough, eventually it will come to a situation where you’re spending a bit more time on the bench and it’s going to be tough.

“It’s disappointing. Any player who is on the bench is disappointed but that’s part of the game, it’s part of the sport. It’s the reality of it. I was disappointed but I would be more disappointed but very happy to be on a substitute bench winning an All-Ireland. At the end of the day not winning an All-Ireland is the biggest disappointment for everyone involved. A small bit of personal disappointment but is something that I’ll get over and I can come to terms with very easily.”

Will it be strange for Paul to be watching Kilkenny playing after being involved for so many years? “It will be strange. Of course it will be strange but I’m sure I’ll drift back to being a supporter.

“There’s players coming through. People often look at what defines a team as the medals they have but medals don’t define players and every player has to start somewhere. We do have a very young panel of excellent players in there at the moment. They just need their chance now to go and win Leinster finals, All-Ireland finals to get the ball rolling.

“Kilkenny are capable of beating anyone any day they go out. Limerick are obviously top dogs at the moment and everyone else is in second place. We proved in 2019 that we were capable of beating Limerick. The team going forward will certainly have no fear of whoever they meet. I would be very excited about the prospect of Kilkenny hurling over the next few years and I’ve no doubt that the lads will have the Liam MacCarthy coming back to Kilkenny sooner than we expect.”

It is just as well that Paul thinks a player is defined by more than just the medals he has as Paul himself doesn’t know where his All-Ireland medals are.

“I don’t actually know where they are. I know they’re safe somewhere but it was never a thing that I would go looking for them to pull them out and have a look. I might come across them at Christmas or whenever I have a bit of down time. I don’t have them on the mantelpiece or anything like that. They’re somewhere and I’m sure I’ll be digging them out and finding a nice place in the future.

“If you were to offer me money to tell you where they were I couldn’t tell you to be honest.”

Paul Murphy and team mate Eoin Larkin came to London with the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2012. Here they meet fans including the Irish World’s David Hennessy.

The Irish World was there in 2012 when Paul and his team mate Eoin Larkin brought the Liam McCarthy Cup to London. As guests of the Kilkenny Supporters Club London Branch, Murphy and Larkin met fans, visited the grave of Liam McCarthy and took part in Q and As hosted by Tomás Ó Sé.

“They’re kind of things you don’t factor in when you get onto a team. These are additions that pop up and they’re great to get. When we came to London it was brilliant because again you forget there’s GAA communities around the world. Kilkenny people find Kilkenny people whether they’re in London or Austin, Texas or Melbourne or wherever they are. The GAA community will follow each other and within the GAA community then different counties will find each other.

“First of all it’s humbling for someone to bring you over to London, put you up and you’re going to have your few nights of meeting supporters at different events, just bringing the cup around, letting people see it and meeting people that haven’t been back to Ireland in a few years. It’s great that you’re bringing a bit of happiness or a bit of joy to their weekend. You’re getting the chance to thank them for the year and for the effort and they’re letting you know what it’s like to be watching matches from London.

“They’re definitely great experiences and it’s great to meet different people all across the world when you go on these trips.”

A member of the Defence Forces, Murphy was based in Lebanon on peacekeeping duties when the pandemic hit last year.

“I was in Lebanon from November 2019 and ended up staying there until July 2020. We were patrolling the blue line between Israel and Lebanon and traditionally we would be out and about in communities.

“We were out there for when Covid really kicked off and I suppose the whole world really changed in that time.

“Obviously when Covid came in, we were very conscious to step back from the community, something we wouldn’t normally do, and keep our distance. We didn’t want to be the people who were blamed for bringing it into their community. We were very conscious to protect not only ourselves but the local communities out there. It changed how we did our jobs and it changed how we functioned within communities within southern Lebanon. It certainly made our job a little bit tougher in terms of trying to communicate with the locals without giving them reason for concern. It certainly made our job tougher but again I think everybody’s job has been tough over the last while.

“Our trip was extended by two months and I suppose I came back to an Ireland that was very different to when I left it, and it was strange.

“People were obviously well used to it back here at that stage but it was strange coming back into it and seeing roads and streets that were usually packed empty or very few people on it. It was very strange coming back to an environment that you know very well but not seeing it the same way that you’re used to seeing it.

“We experienced Covid from a Middle Eastern point of view and from a country that is developing and coming out of wars over many decades. Coming back to Ireland and seeing how Ireland had reacted over the course of a few months, there was a lot to take on board.

“It’s been strange for everyone and my experience in the middle of that was I suppose unique in some ways in that I wasn’t around for the start of it. Thankfully, I got home. Everybody was in one piece. Certainly strange times but it’s just strange for everybody at the moment.”