Eoin Murphy: Kilkenny’s jack of all trades and master of one
By consensus the best goalkeeper in hurling, his highlights reel is now feature-length
Kilkenny’s goalkeeper Eoin Murphy in their All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Limerick at Croke Park on July 27th. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Eoin Murphy (Glenmore)
SHC debut: June 9th, 2013 v Offaly
Honours: All-Ireland SHC 2011, ’12 (as panellist) and 2014 and ’15, Leinster SHC 2011, ’14 (as panellist), 2015 and ’16. All-Ireland MHC 2008, All Stars 2016 and ’18, Fitzgibbon Cup (captain, WIT) 2014 and All-Ireland club JHC 2016.
Eoin Murphy’s highlights reel is at this stage more or less the length of a feature film. The Kilkenny goalkeeper was instrumental in his county reaching their most recent All-Ireland final before this year when, at the end of the epic 2016 semi-final replay against Waterford in Thurles, he rose above the square to pluck down Pauric Mahony’s late free which could have taken the match to extra time.
Consensus is that he’s the best in the game and, unlike his predecessors in the Kilkenny goal during the years of plenty, has had good opportunity to show it.
Last year, a narrow defeat by Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles could have been a rout but for a barely believable selection of saves by Murphy, which kept the match alive.
Christy O’Connor, journalist, author of Last Man Standing, the definitive book on hurling goalkeepers, All-Ireland club winning ’keeper and a specialist coach, underlines the point.
“When they did the moments of the year on The Sunday Game last year, they picked out two of his saves in the Limerick game, from Aaron Gillane, but the best save was from Gearóid Hegarty, hit across his body on a wet day. It was a real goalkeepers’ save.”
An unusual aspect of Murphy’s achievements is that he has won highest honours playing in completely different positions: as goalkeeper with Kilkenny, as a forward with club Glenmore in their All-Ireland junior club victory, and as a centre back in the 2014 Fitzgibbon Cup final when captain of Waterford IT.
“The WIT half-back line ruled with an iron fist throughout,” according to Eoghan Cormican’s report in the Irish Examiner, “with Murphy and Joe O’Dwyer providing the launch-pad for the majority of their first-half scores, Murphy also getting on the scoresheet with an absolute belter from distance.”
Speaking afterwards, the captain was self-deprecating about his versatility, having started the campaign as a forward.
His adaptability impressed WIT coach and Tipperary All-Ireland winner Colm Bonnar
“Tomás Hamill and Joe O’Dwyer were either side of me and I was onto them the whole time to make sure my positioning was okay as this [playing centre-back] is still relatively new to me. I got a couple of roars of them when I roamed forward, which I’m sure the cameras picked up on; they really kept me on my toes,” he said.
His adaptability impressed WIT coach and Tipperary All-Ireland winner Colm Bonnar, currently manager of Carlow, who believes that, in any other era, Murphy might have staked his inter-county claim as a forward.
“He went back to centre back that year; his energy, pace, hurling, and he’s got a hurling brain and is hugely passionate about it. He was a huge Fitzgibbon player for us. If he’d been given a chance as a Kilkenny forward, he’d definitely have made it, but at the time he was up against one of the greatest forward lines of all time. Any other county and he could have had a choice.
“Normally when you’re looking for a ’keeper at under-age you think of bringing back a forward because they have such a good eye and their touch is more developed than, say, someone who was a back growing up.
“When you’re a corner forward or a wing forward, the ball has to stick. He had such a good eye and a good hand. I’ve seen him destroy teams from wing forward.”
His striking ability is also obvious in the long-range free-taking that has yielded 0-3 this championship.
The move to play in goal came about when he was playing age grade for the county. He kept goal in the 2008 All-Ireland minor victory over Galway and a year later in the under-21 final defeat by Clare.
It was a question of needs must at his club, which was better supplied for goalkeepers than forwards, as he told gaa.ie in 2016.
“Davy Aylward plays in goals for the club and I wouldn’t mind but he’s a fine outfield player as well. When I was younger we always had a goalkeeper at the club between PJ O’Connor and Willie Fitzgerald, so I was more of a corner forward back then. The last couple of years I have been out in the half-forwards, midfield and the half-back line so I am a bit of a utility man.”
I remember years ago Eddie Brennan saying to me that Eoin Murphy was the best free-taker in Kilkenny
The experience outfield has been a crucial contributory factor to his career, according to Christy O’Connor.
“The first attribute in any hurling goalkeeper is hurling. I remember years ago Eddie Brennan saying to me that Eoin Murphy was the best free-taker in Kilkenny. If I’m coaching young players as goalkeepers, I always say, ‘develop the skills.’ It used to be said that you played your most skilful player at centre back but, arguably, these days it should be the ’keeper.
“Playing outfield gives you confidence, especially makes you comfortable under the high ball. Your touch has to be so much better than anyone else’s. He’s an incredible hurler.
“It probably took him a while to adapt because he played most of his underage hurling outfield and there were bound to be a couple of mistakes as he adapted to the positional demands, but how many mistakes can you think of him making now?”