Paul Murphy standing firm in his case for the Kerry defence
Kingdom stalwart relishing the ultimate challenge of facing all-conquering Dublin
Paul Murphy: “It is a huge challenge, you’d be relishing it. You are just dying for 3.30pm on September 1st to come.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
We were just short of showing Paul Murphy some grisly photographic evidence – “look what they did, for heaven’s sake” – when there’s a knock on the door. Our interrogation time is up, and Murphy is left unbroken in his case for the Kerry defence.
At least it feels that way. Murphy is the first player brought into the empty room at the Currans Training Centre during the Kerry press night, and it’s not long until we start laying out some daunting evidence.
Did he see the 2-6 Dublin hit against Mayo? In just 12 minutes? An average winning margin this summer of 15 points? How can this young Kerry team possibly hold out against that?
We don’t stop there. Looking at the Kerry team that started against Tyrone in the semi-final, two-thirds have never been part of a senior panel on All-Ireland final day. Nine panel members have made their senior debut this season, including goalkeeper Shane Ryan. Kerry haven’t beaten Dublin in the championship in 10 years.
Murphy doesn’t flinch once. At 28, he is one of the more seasoned members of the Kerry team, and will wear the captain’s armband if Gavin White doesn’t start. In his debut season, in 2014, he also started his first All-Ireland final and ended up man-of-the-match on a day the Kerry defence restricted a Donegal team – who had just beaten Dublin – to 12 points.
I think we are looking to win this year and last year doesn’t matter, next year doesn’t matter to us, it’s all about the here and now
“We know it is going to be tough to find chinks in their armour, but it is a challenge we are relishing,” says Murphy, the Rathmore man who has 30 championship appearances next to his name, and has scored 2-13.
“Dublin are going to be a different animal to Tyrone in how they will line up and where they move their players around the field. Especially the start they got to the second half against Mayo which was incredible.
“To be fair for us and for this group, we are just trying to win our first one so that is big enough for us. The significance of it is more so in Dublin’s side of it in what they are going for. Obviously they are going for five-in-a-row so the significance of that is for Dublin only.
“We are looking to win our first here with this team. One All-Ireland is huge which gives you an indication of what Dublin have achieved in the last four years, it’s incredible. And to be going for five in a row is phenomenal altogether. But I think we are looking to win this year and last year doesn’t matter, next year doesn’t matter to us, it’s all about the here and now.”
Murphy started out in a sweeping role against Tyrone, before reverting to his more natural wing back position. Tom O’Sullivan did a proper marking job on Peter Harte, and Tadhg Morley and Jason Foley will have both learned a lot from their time on Cathal McShane.
“Naturally enough you would prefer one-on-one defending but if you are beaten by your man you always do like that sense of there being an extra man back to cover the danger. I always find it being horses for courses in terms of your set-up though.
“Dublin and Tyrone are different animals. They play the game differently. Dublin, possibly, play with more forwards up at times and they retreat more men back at times, as well. I would rate our defensive effort as fair enough against Tyrone. We won the game but conceded 0-18 which was probably too high.
With Dublin, it is going to be tougher to find chinks in their armour than with any other team, such is the quality they have
“But you are talking about a more experienced backline this year, in that you had a lot of guys last year getting their first run, the likes of Gavin White, Tom O’Sullivan, Jason Foley, and Gavin Crowley have come in this year after playing a lot of games in the league. You are possibly just looking at guys who are a year further down in their development. They are more comfortable in their roles. That has probably contributed to it.”
A large part of the Kerry defence is also built on the input of coaches Tommy Griffin and Donie Buckley, given that role by manager Peter Keane.
“I know people talk about Donie’s work on the tackle with teams he has been involved in, but I feel his work on all round defending is very good. At times, he is labelled as a tackling expert, he’s an all-round coach. He brings an awful lot to it.
“We do a nice bit of work on tackling, it is probably for people watching on to say if our techniques have improved. You’d obviously be looking to get yourself right, irrespective of who you are playing. With Dublin, it is going to be tougher to find chinks in their armour than with any other team, such is the quality they have. It is a huge challenge, you’d be relishing it. You are just dying for 3.30pm on September 1st to come.”
And what about Dublin’s population, resources, funding, all the sponsors for heaven’s sake?
“I know,” says Murphy, “a lot of people talk about the advantages they have off the pitch but it’s still 15-on-15 or 26-on-26 when it comes to the field of play. Those huge numbers create challenges as well, in making sure everyone gets games, and that you have enough volunteers to cope with those numbers.”