Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy settles into his place in hurling’s longest-running attraction
County’s ability to source talent keeps the show on the road
As daunting for Kilkenny’s opponents as the All-Ireland champions’ relentless pursuit of success is the sense the ageing process may be no help to counties trying to catch up with hurling’s pace setters. The county has just qualified for a third successive league final and will then turn its sights towards reaching an eighth successive All-Ireland, six of which have ended up with the MacCarthy Cup on the team bus.
This most recent achievement has been managed in the absence of coach Brian Cody, convalescing after heart surgery, and hurler-of-the-year Henry Shefflin, recovering from injury, as well as sundry All Stars.
More than any other county this season, Kilkenny have produced newcomers with serious championship potential and the fight for places when the panel is fully manned will be ferocious.
Corner back Paul Murphy is an example of the county’s ability to produce players who emerge almost quietly but fully formed into top-class hurling. Twenty four this year, his first championship match was two years ago against Wexford and in the interim he has accumulated two All-Ireland medals and two All Stars. He says the team has coped well in the absence of the manager, as they prepared for the semi-final against Galway two days ago under Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey.
“There was no change in training. Maybe there was that bit more added motivation knowing Brian was going to be at home. It can’t be easy for him so we were going to put in a good effort. It was just touched upon, obviously, the fact he wasn’t going to be there . . . but we said between ourselves there’s been some hard days when he’s been on the sideline and this would be one of the better days. At least when he was at home, he could relax and he’d know that things were in good hand.”
As a result of the emphatic win over the team that overwhelmed them in last year’s Leinster final and nearly won September’s drawn All-Ireland, Kilkenny now have the prospect of a league final at home, Nowlan Park, and a renewal of the great rivalry with Tipperary with whom they contested a thunderous match into extra time in the same fixture four years ago.
Murphy explains the dynamic that drives the team during the league given in recent years the county has rarely been at full strength but yet has qualified for seven of the last nine finals. “We’re very lucky to have them,” he says of the missing players, “but when they’re away there are lads really pushing. We’re getting close to championship and lads are pushing for positions. Lester Ryan has really stood out there at midfield and Michael Rice is bursting for hurling. He’s back and hasn’t been hurling for a long time.
“Michael Fennelly, Henry and TJ will add to the team but . . . when they’re away, there are always players waiting in the wings to come in and thankfully, they’re playing great. It puts pressure on everyone to perform and to get their own position back. It’s great that we can still perform without them.”