Paul Murphy happy to be the man in the middle
By John Harrington
Recently retired Kerry footballer, Kieran Donaghy, gave his take last January on what the Kingdom would have to do in order to challenge hard for silverware in 2019.
He figured that Kerry would always have forwards good enough to win an All-Ireland, but that if they were to knock Dublin off their perch next year they’d need to tighten up defensively.
What made Donaghy positive about their ability to do that was the recruitment of Tommy Griffin and Donie Buckley as coaches by new Kerry manager Peter Keane.
Buckley is renowned as a guru on the art of the tackle, while Griffin has made a name for himself as coach who knows how to organise a defense.
And if you compare Kerry’s performance in this year’s League compared to last year’s League, then it’s very clear they’ve tightened up considerably at the back.
Last year they conceded 127 points in Division 1 – an average of 18 points per match – whereas this year they’ve conceded just 92 for an average of 13 points per match.
That meanness in defence hasn’t come at the expense of a cutting edge in attack – they’ve scored just one point less in the League this year (113) than they did last year.
“It’s a probably a fair enough assessment that we needed to tighten things up back there,” admitted Kerry defender Paul Murphy when told of Kieran Donaghy’s assessment of the team.
“I think Tommy (Griffin) has been very good from the very start, he’s put a real emphasis on the defensive side and on a team defence, bailing lads out, dropping back, helping each other out.
“So far, things have gone quite well from a defensive point of view, we’re happy enough. We could probably tighten things up a little bit better, but generally happy with it at the moment.”
Murphy has been quite literally at the heart of Kerry’s defensive effort this year after being handed the number six jersey.
He made his name as a flying wing-back and has operated very effectively in attack too, but says he’s happy to have been given a greater defensive responsibility by new manager Peter Keane.
“Yeah, I'm probably not bombing up the field as much as I would have done, not that I was too much of a bomber before, but I'm probably playing further back the field alright,” said Murphy.
“Slightly different role but I would have played centre-back a good bit for the club as well so it's something I'm familiar with and comfortable enough doing it.
“You've all different sort of roles back there so that's a role that needs to be filled and I'm happy enough to do it.
“I've always said I'm happy enough to play where ever. I'd probably be more natural as a half-back. Underage I would have played nearly all my football as a half-back. It was quite late in the day that I played a bit up front.
“Probably centre-back (is my favourite position), when things are going well for you centre-back is the best position on the field.
“But when there's lads running at you in twos and threes it's probably not as comfortable. If you had to push me I'd probably say centre-back or wing-back.
“Because you can influence the game a lot from there. A lot can go through you, you can cut out ball from there. In a wing position, particularly wing-forward, you can put in a huge shift
I've found and the ball just might not come your way and you can spend a lot of time chasing a guy back the field.
“It can be frustrating whereas I think at centre-back a lot of the play would be coming close to you anyway so you can get involved a lot.”
Murphy is still a young man, but at the age of 27 counts as a veteran in a Kerry panel heavily populated by players in their very early twenties.
Man of the match in the 2014 All-Ireland Final as a Championship rookie, five years down the road he’s happy to assume a burden of leadership in the current group.
“Yeah, you’d hope as you’d progress that you’d become a leader,” said Murphy.
“You can influence and encourage the young lads coming through and maybe they can learn something from you. I’m certainly in the higher half of the age groups, I’m above average.
“The age group has come down significantly in the last two or three years. Hopefully, I can give a bit of leadership and show the lads a bit of guidance.
“If you felt there was something they were doing well or something they can improve on, you might have a word with them but they’re not seeking lads out too much. If they have a query, you do your best to help them.”
Some of these young Kerry footballers are so talented they don’t that much tutoring.
Seanie O’Shea, in particular, has been outstanding at centre-forward so far this year, and Murphy knows better than most just how talented he is because he marks him so often in training.
“Yeah, it’s tough enough!” he said. “He’s a handful, he does a lot of things very well.
“He’s obviously very good on the ball but he works hard off it as well, he works hard to get on the ball and he tackles very well when you’re on it so you’d prefer not to see him coming at you in training.
“He’s probably stepped up now. On reflection, he had a very solid year for Kerry last year when you consider that he was only 19.
“He’s still only 20 but he’s probably stepped his game up a bit this year with Kerry and he was very good for UCC in the Sigerson as well.
“As I said, like a lot of the lads, he has a very good attitude which is the main thing and I think that is showing in his game as well.”
It takes a lot to impress your average Kerry supporter, but there’s plenty of excitement building in the county as to just what this developing young team might achieve this year and in the ones that follow.
A victory over Mayo in Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 1 Final would only add to the growing good vibes.
It’s been a quick turn-around in mood since last year’s failure to progress beyond the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals.
“Oh, yeah, things were very negative at the end of last year,” said Murphy.
“To finish up at the start of August was very disappointing for the panel and the public.
“Look, it's understandable that the mood is going to be much better when you're winning compared to last year when we lost to Galway and were up against it then with a very tough trip to Clones.
“We got a draw and it was out of our hands at that stage and there was a big of negative talk. Thankfully now things are looking up again and people are seeing the bright side of things again.”