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Larry Murphy following the 2003 All Ireland SHC Qualifier win over Waterford at Nowlan Park.

Larry Murphy following the 2003 All Ireland SHC Qualifier win over Waterford at Nowlan Park.

Larry Murphy: 'It is exciting for the next generation'

By Cian O'Connell

In a Wexford team laced with class and characters Larry Murphy was firmly part of the group. Murphy claimed an All Ireland title under Liam Griffin in 1996, but his wholehearted displays in the purple and gold are still fondly recalled throughout the country.

It was a time when Wexford were contenders, capable of delivering against any outfit in the land. That was most certainly the case in 2003, a year before Murphy retired from Wexford duty.

On a sultry Saturday evening at Nowlan Park Wexford’s first ever Championship encounter against a fancied Waterford culminated in a narrow Qualifiers win. “Looking back, it was a little bit like the last throw of the dice for us,” Wexford stalwart Murphy recalls.

“Larry O'Gorman, it was his last Championship year, Dave Guiney, even myself, we were reaching the twilight of our careers. A lot of the 1996 lads were moving on in age, Adrian Fenlon and Damien Fitzhenry, even though he played for a good few years after it, a lot of us were reaching the end of our careers. Yeah, it was a novel pairing, it was one of the first Saturday evening matches, I do remember a massive, sell out crowd and a great atmosphere.

“It was nice to get a victory because Waterford were hot favourites, they were an in form team. They would have been very confident of beating us, we got beaten badly in the Leinster Final by Kilkenny.

“We were probably struggling for confidence and form, but we dug out a result which was brilliant. It got us going again for ‘04 too, there was a fantastic atmosphere.”

Wexford were subsequently beaten by Cork in an All Ireland SHC Semi-Final replay by Cork. It was a reminder of what Wexford and a few other counties can do according to Murphy.

“Yeah, ‘03 sparked us into life,” Murphy admits. “Wexford have, and Waterford also to a big extent, and Cork have that sort of thing when they get a bit of momentum.

“If we get some momentum at all we can play above ourselves. A lot of it is belief and confidence. You need to have those one or two victories. Waterford are coming in on the Sunday on the back of a victory, we are coming in on the back of a loss.”

With his wife, Deirdre, a Waterford native, the clashes with Wexford will always matter deeply in the Murphy household.

“I've connections with both counties funnily enough, my wife is from Waterford so we are having right good craic, it is great," Murphy laughs. "We were out with the inlaws on holidays last week when the draw was made. We had brilliant craic.

“My father in law, John A Murphy, used to be a reporter, he has passed away, but you can imagine the craic around GAA time. It is brilliant, it is great for the south east.”

A passion for hurling certainly exists in Waterford and Wexford with Murphy ideally placed to assess the development in his own county. Murphy acted as a selector under JJ Doyle during Wexford’s three in a row success at Under 21 level. The signs were encouraging according to Murphy.

“Totally, I had trained a lot of those lads at minor and Under 16 level,” Murphy says. “Funnily enough I have been involved for a good few years and when you look back you think you are getting old, but I would have trained Paul Morris, Harry Kehoe, Shane Tompkins at Under 16 level, and I knew these lads were high achievers, that they were going on to represent Wexford at senior level.

“Obviously I knew the likes of Conor Mc, Jack Guiney, Lee Chin, Simon Donohoe, Liam Ryan, Aidan Nolan - all those guys were going to come up, Dee O'Keefe too. They were obviously going to play a big part for Wexford and they will. I see this very much as the start of a renaissance for Wexford.

“I think it is an exciting time to be a supporter of Wexford. We are back in Division 1A, already we are looking forward to hurling against the big boys next year. I do think we will be competitive for the next four or five years and maybe more. Is there an All Ireland in the team?

“Every county starts off with that aspiration at the start of the year. You look at Cork, they are dominating now at Under 17, minor, Under 21 level, particularly in Munster. They are going to be coming for the next three or four years.

“Waterford are obviously too winning the Under 21 last year with super talent. It is an exciting time to be a GAA supporter. The standard and the bar is being risen all the time.”

Something is stirring in Wexford once more. Davy Fitzgerald has injected optimism back into the county, and Murphy acknowledges the similarities with the mid 90s.

“You get that sense,” Murphy accepts. “I knew there was an awful lot of work being done at underage level in Wexford. It takes a few years to see the reward for that. We were just hoping that Wexford would sustain a level of competitiveness at senior level, which they did do under Liam Dunne.

“Could they wait for these young guys to come up and they have done. You still have the likes of Matthew O'Hanlon, but if you look at the average age of the Wexford panel there are probably in and around 21, 22, 23 which is maybe just a couple of years behind teams like Galway and Waterford at the moment.

“The one thing I would say about the 90s is you had Offaly, Limerick, Clare, ourselves, Waterford were starting to emerge. You still had the three big powers in Kilkenny, Tipp, and Cork. Hurling every year from a media point of view you could say that any team had a chance.

“We came out of the blue in '96, Clare came out of the blue in '95, Offaly came out of the blue in '94, and yet all the matches seemed competitive. Waterford came in '98, they could have got to an All Ireland Final.”

Suddenly teams are beginning to believe. Murphy remains enthralled by the sport, what it can offer, especially in high summer.

“Everybody likes the new kid on the block,” Murphy states. “Back in the 90s it was straight knockout until the new format came in 1997. It was do or die, you had one day only. The one thing I would say in the main the backdoor has helped the stronger counties, but now and again the so called weaker counties are coming. I think it is a brilliant, brilliant Championship so far.

“It started off with Cork and Tipp which was an absolutely brilliant game of hurling. There has been some really good games and the crowds are starting to reflect that.

"There has been a turn in the economy and crowds are coming back to matches because the entertainment level has gone very, very high. The standard is very high and Pairc Ui Chaoimh will be full on Saturday and Sunday.”

That is why Wexford were so delighted to be involved in these type of occasions. It affords these emerging players an opportunity to demonstrate their ability on a grand stage. Youngsters in the county are starting to admire a new and exciting crop.

“I'd like to think that we are going to be competitive and we certainly are going to be competitive in Leinster over the next three or four years,” Murphy says. “It is exciting especially for the next generation. Reminiscing about the 90s is great for me, but it is not great for a 13 or a 15 year old in Wexford, who it means very little to.

“What I'm excited about is that the next generation of hurlers in Wexford are now seeing the likes of Lee Chin, Conor Mc (McDonald), and Jack Guiney as their heroes rather than reminiscing and looking back at us as the last bit of success.” Those fortunate to have lived in the 90s, though, will never forget an era when anything was possible.

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