Calm and collected Murphy playing his part with Waterford
By John Harrington
Nine years have passed since Waterford’s annihilation at the hands of Kilkenny in the 2008 All-Ireland Final, but the desolation he felt in its aftermath is still a tangible emotion for Eoin Murphy.
Waterford appear in their first All-Ireland Final since ’08 when they play Galway on Sunday, and this time around Murphy is part of the group in his role as a team selector.
Nine years ago he was stationed at Ground Zero in the Waterford full-back line when Kilkenny flattened them with arguably the greatest performance any team has ever produced in an All-Ireland Final.
“It was the best three weeks of my life followed by the worst six where I wanted the ground to open up and I didn’t want to meet anyone,” recalls Murphy.
“I dreamed of playing in an All-Ireland final for so long as a young fella, just not that one. That one never came into my dreams. That was a nightmare.
“They totally hit the ground running and we just met a storm on the day. They went for it and they just put us away.
“Unfortunately, it was gone after 10 or 15 minutes. There was no way back at that stage and unfortunately, it was like dominos for the whole group – you just flick them and they’re gone.”
Time has been a healer as far as that 2008 All-Ireland Final is concerned.
An incident that occurred two years later gave him the perspective that in the greater scheme of things losing a game of hurling, no matter what the occasion, is a trivial enough thing.
He was playing a club game with Shamrocks against Abbeyside when he received an accident blow to the head while trying to block down an opponent that left him with a fractured skull.
Had he not been wearing a helmet he has no doubts he would have been killed.
“The scan is nice to see – it’s a bit like an Easter egg cracked in at one side,” says Murphy.
“I was a very lucky boy. The helmet saved my life. I still have a little indentation there on the side of my temple.
“If I ever lose my hair you’ll be able to see it. I was lucky. I was very, very lucky. Thanks to the medical personnel in Waterford and Cork. It just healed – they didn’t have to intervene or operate.
“It was a freak accident, just one of those things. Bad timing. But at the time, it was a weird sensation. Now I know what it was – there were bones breaking and there was a bit of bleeding on the brain. But thankfully everything settled down and it just healed itself.”
Murphy comes across as a very calm, grounded sort of character and even when talking about a near death experience does it in a very matter of fact sort of way.
You can see why Derek McGrath thought he’d be a good man to bring into his management set-up last June. Someone as even-tempered as Murphy is just the sort of sounding board you’d appreciate in the heat of a championship battle when others might be losing their cool.
“I suppose I’m more of a deep thinker than a swashbuckling, jumping up and down kind of person,” says Murphy. “I don’t get too excited. Maybe that’s a nice balance.
“Dan is the runner so he’s trying to get in and out with messages. And Derek himself is in the middle of it obviously and he can get into the heat of it. He’s manager, he’s head of the whole group.
“He can get caught in the moment. So I like to be able to sit back and analyse the moment and he likes to come back to me and just use me as a sounding board.
“But we all talk before we leave the hotel. Just nothing too serious, two or three minutes. Literally all the work is done at that stage.”
What took Murphy by surprise when he agreed to come on board last June was just how much work is done behind the scenes by McGrath and his management team.
And he’s viewed first-hand how McGrath’s all-consuming approach to the job had created a tight bond between him and his players.
“Derek is happiest when he’s with the players. He loves being around the players. Be it, when they go for recovery maybe on a Monday, he’ll go and join them for it.
“He’s happiest hanging around with them. It’s kind of peer to peer, even though he is their manager at the end of the day. He listens to what they have to say, he takes their feedback on board.
“I would argue that he’s happier amongst his players than he is amongst us or around the county board or dealing with other stuff that he has to deal with.
“I just see total respect on both sides, that’s what I see. Whether that is with number 31 on the panel, there’s respect there and those people are not forgotten about. Derek is all about – it’s all-in.
“There’s no group here where it’s the 15 or 26 or 30 who matter. It’s the 52 or 53. If one person is getting this, then we’re all getting it. There’s no one put up on a pedestal. It’s utmost respect really."
Most managers seem to operate by the code that you have to keep a level of distance between you and the players, but from talking to Murphy it’s clear that McGrath isn’t a fan of that school of thinking.
His relationship with his players goes far beyond their interaction on the training pitch, he makes a conscious effort to help them in their personal lives as well as their sporting ones.
“I would say he lives, breathes and eats the job,” says Murphy. “He’s 110 per cent thrown into it. He will do whatever he can to get the most out of the group and the players. He will drive to the ends of the earth for a player.
“If one of them asks him to do something, if they need something done in college or if they want a helping hand with career advice, he’s straight in going, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll go up with you.’
“It doesn’t matter what it is, if they have a problem or if they have an issue, he always says, ‘I’ll sort that.’ That’s just the way he is. He’ll drive up to the end of the county if a couple of them are meeting for lunch and he’ll buy them lunch and head away again. This is what he does.
“He’s not motivated by money or ego or himself. It’s just for the group. He’s just trying to set a culture of work hard and you’ll get your rewards, keep the head down and always be humble and be grateful for what we have.
“He’s just a fantastic guy. Even in his speeches, he’ll relate to something that’s going on in the world. People who have serious worries, be it what’s after happening in Barcelona or whatever.
“We’re in a situation with sport at the end of the day where we’re privileged to be going up to an All-Ireland final representing our clubs and our families and our county.
“This is what he instils in the group, humility in front of the supporters and the people who travel to see us. It’s a nice culture to have around the group. I think the players respond to it, which is important.”
Murphy feels privileged to be now part of the group too. He doesn’t view Sunday’s All-Ireland Final against Galway as an opportunity to make amends for his own unhappy experience in 2008, he’s happy to be just a small cog in a much bigger wheel.
“I think the best management just facilitates the players to get the best out of themselves. For me, it’s seeing players reaching their absolute maximum, really attacking and going for it, hurling on instinct.
“So it’s fantastic and I will be personally over the moon if we win. But I think honestly I will be over the moon for the group and the players.
“For me coming in in June, I feel extremely lucky and privileged and grateful to be given the opportunity. Derek started this job with Dan four years ago.
“It’s easy for me to come in in June, just 10 days before championship. I will just be delighted for the group, more so than for myself if we can get over the line.”