Sport, Style Of Play | |

“I thought the ball was over the bar” – Eoin Murphy

Shane Stapleton sits down with Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy as he reminisces on his first All-Ireland Final, reflects on the 2019 season, and The Cats’ ambition for the season ahead.

Eoin Murphy leaned into the left post at the Davin Stand side of Croke Park. He was straining for the best possible view of a ball that had travelled 100 metres or more, carrying with it two possible outcomes: disaster, or a stay of execution.

This was 7 September 2014, the finale to perhaps the single greatest All-Ireland final of all time, a day when Kilkenny and Tipperary had shared 54 scores, before John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer discharged one more bullet from his chamber.

The Hawk-Eye final, Murphy’s first time lining out with the Liam MacCarthy Cup at stake, and his chances twisted in the wind.

“I thought the ball was over the bar,” says Murphy. “It might have been a bit of ignorance in me but I leaned into the post and I saw it going over the top of the post, and I thought that meant it was a score.
“Straight away, I ran off to get a sliotar because we were in injury time and I didn’t want to waste a second. We would need one to level it. Then the umpire said to me ‘I think it’s over the post, so that means it’s wide’.”

“I was like, ‘oh Jesus, I didn’t know that!’ We got the break and we were able to regroup for the second day (when they beat Tipp by 2-17 to 2-14).”

Rewinding back to the weekend of that drawn final five years ago, it was a hectic time in the Murphy household. Eoin had agreed to collect his brother James, who was living in Australia, from the airport on the Saturday, but things changed after he was surprisingly named in the team on the Friday night. It was a shock decision as far as those outside the camp were concerned, as David Herity had acquitted himself well in the number one shirt during the rain-soaked semi-final against Limerick. In the minor final, younger brothers Alan and Shane would be part of the minor side taking on Limerick in the curtain-raiser at Croke Park. Three sons chasing two cups on the one day.

The goalkeeper laughs when asked what the Saturday was like in the Murphy household. “I had planned on collecting James, but my father went up instead after I got word I was starting. Herro (Herity) did nothing wrong and I thought the year had passed me by, as I’d hurt my elbow earlier in the year and lost my place.

“But I was going well in training and I think any player knows when he has done everything he can. I was in pure shock when the team was named — just elation and excitement. The Saturday in our house was bedlam. We have what you’d call the typical Irish mother, proud as punch, packing gear, making sure of everything — and we eventually had to run her out of the house,” he says with a chuckle.
“She couldn’t contain herself and she was up on the Sunday morning at 6am buzzing around the house. We had all the brothers there and people in visiting James who was back. My sister was there too, so it was packed — the first time everyone was all under the roof together in a long time.

“But I ended up probably having the best sleep I ever had — maybe just because it had been a draining day. We got the bus up to Dublin then and the game had nearly started before I thought about playing in my first All-Ireland. The only thing is that we needed a replay because Alan and Shane won the minor, whereas I had to wait for the replay, and James had to go back to Australia in the meantime. It was a great day for the parents.”

Murphy gave one of the great performances in that drawn 2014 final before the Cats won the title after a replay, and he would add another All-Ireland a year later against Galway. He’s played in two finals since — 2016 and 2019 — but come out on the wrong side of the result on both occasions.

At no stage did the Glenmore man’s goalkeeping cost his side, and in many ways playing in that position had never been the plan. His first ever game for the county was at corner-forward against Cork in a league game in 2012, but an underwhelming performance and the retirement of fellow netminder PJ Ryan set his course.

Perhaps a decade earlier, Murphy was one of those young players who, like many others, baulked the first time he was asked to stand between the sticks. “Yeah I was thinking ‘no way’,” he says of his reaction to first being asked to play in goal. “I was a young lad, Under-14, thinking ‘oh no’ because you just want to be out there running around the field after the ball. We had a decent Under-14 team, I think we were in Roinn B, and our manager Neddy Aylward always reckoned you needed a good goalie so he put me in.”

“I didn’t play there that much, and I was never on the development squads or considered up until around Under-17. Then I got a phone call from Nicky Walsh who was a former Kilkenny ‘keeper, asking me in for a trial with the minors in 2007, and it took off from there. I was still mostly outfield.
“I remember I cursed Neddy at first,” Murphy says with a laugh. “But he saw something. I ended up there minor for Kilkenny but still played my second and third year of Under-21 out the field. Brian didn’t say where I’d be playing when he asked me in, just left it open, and eventually I ended up in goals.”

Murphy says there are very few sports he wouldn’t watch, and goes off on an entertaining ramble about the ins and outs of professional contracts in American football. He’s a Baltimore Ravens fan, and has been to London to see them play an NFL game. He’s also a Leeds United fan — a long-suffering one, though perhaps there is no other variety.
“I’d watch most sports. When we got the channels in the house growing up, I got into NFL and I’ve been to a good few games, maybe once a year. Most Sundays would be taken up watching it — and herself would be going mad!

“It’s great to go to, you’d be there for maybe four hours and it seems like a long time, but you’d be enjoying a drink and there’s so much going on. It’s so commercialised and there’s a lot of show-business about it. You even see how soccer has started copying the way they introduce players, and maybe it’s coming into GAA more.

“When I was growing up, everyone in the house supported Man United, although my sister supports Arsenal, and I think I just got tired of it and went for Leeds. They had a coming team, David O’Leary was there, so I stuck with them even though the last few years have been interesting!”

“What I love about the NFL is that a team can be in the doldrums for years but then they get in a good GM (general manager), make a couple of good signings, and all of a sudden you’re competing for titles. I really like that.”

Kilkenny are rarely down for long, and many felt that they wouldn’t be in the shake-up for silverware in 2019. They made the Leinster final where Wexford edged them out but recovered to beat both Cork and All-Ireland champions Limerick on route to the big dance against Tipp.

The Cats raced into an early 0-8 to 0-3 lead, but Tipp were soon level thanks chiefly to a brilliant goal from wing-forward Niall O’Meara. Murphy explains that the momentum shifted leading into half-time and feels that the red card to Richie Hogan for a high challenge on 34 minutes didn’t affect the result.
“Tipp had turned it before the red, but I think Richie spoke very well on the radio about it, and in my eyes, even if I was a neutral, I don’t think it was a red card. By the letter of the law, yes, it is, and reffing hurling is very hard, but you’d have so many red cards if everything was done by the rulebook. There has to be discretion.”

“If someone clotheslined a player, then fair enough it has to be red. That’s when there’s no attempt to play the ball. I don’t think it should have been a red for Cathal Barrett either (when the Tipp corner-back made contact with Hogan’s helmet earlier in the half), and that’s just how it goes. It’s tough to take when you put so much of your life into it, all that effort — it wouldn’t have been a red in a Junior B game. I know I’m contradicting myself because it is a red in the rules, and you live and die by the sword.”

“To be fair to Tipp, they were so clinical in the second half. They scored 2-5 with their first eight shots in the second half, and we were chasing goals after that. Like, Tipp only played one bad game throughout the championship and that was the Munster final — they had been phenomenal in Cork and down in Clare earlier on, so they have to be celebrated.
“The dressing-room after the game was like after any loss, just extreme disappointment. It’s the biggest prize — whereas when we lost in Leinster, you can regroup and get ready to go again. I sit beside Richie and I don’t think you can say anything after something like that. It’s hard to describe it, it’s like a state of shock and it’s an emotional place to be. You work for nine or ten months to get to there, so in that moment there’s nothing you can say.”

“We’ve spoken since and Richie has a very good head, and I can see him being a manager someday the way he thinks about the game.”

“Yeah certainly,” Murphy says of bouncing back in 2020. “As Richie would say, it’s not about him but about Kilkenny. We’ll be in it to win it, Tipp will, Limerick will bounce back, so will Galway.”

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