Game Eoin Murphy is poacher turned keeper
By John Harrington
The way Eoin Murphy tells it, he pretty much fell into the goalkeeping trade by accident.
The Kilkenny number one has played far more minutes as an outfielder than he has as a goalkeeper, and he’ll continue to do so with his club Glenmore for the foreseeable future at least.
Neddy Aylward can take the credit for spotting that Murphy’s quick wrists and silken first touch could also be put to good use as a shot-stopper.
The Glenmore mentor coached Murphy at underage level and first put him between the posts for a Waterford City League the South Kilkenny team competed in at the time.
Murphy performed well as Glenmore made it all the way to the Final of the competition, and a seed had been planted.
He continued to usually play as an outfielder for a few years after that though until he was called up to the Kilkenny minor panel in 2007.
The team manager at the time was former Kilkenny goalkeeper Michael Walsh, and he too recognised that Murphy had all the tools to be a capable custodian.
Sub-goalkeeper in 2007, by the following year Murphy was the Kilkenny minor team’s number one.
In his first year out of the minor grade he was Kilkenny U-21 sub-goalkeeper, but in his next two years in the grade he moved back out the field and played as a forward.
So it’s only relatively recently that the 2018 All-Star really focused on being a goalkeeper at inter-county level, and at club level he most usually plays as a midfielder.
“I suppose it was nearly 2012 after PJ Ryan retire where I started being a goalkeeper full-time with Kilkenny,” Murphy told GAA.ie
“I suppose I have the best of both worlds and I mentioned it to Nickie Quaid at the All-Stars, it's great getting a run out the field as well because you're like a giddy child you're so excited to get out there and run around.
“I'm still playing outfield for the club, in midfield, so I have the best of both worlds. I don't really have a preference. If you told me to play full-back or corner-back, I'd genuinely love it and I'd train to the best of my ability for those positions and give my all.
“We just love it at home and I think that comes from our parents. From when we were three or four I remember pucking with the mother and father.
“Yeah, you just love playing hurling and obviously playing at the top level gives you that bit of an extra buzz because you know a lot of lads around the county of Kilkenny would give their left arm for it.”
Goalkeeping has evolved considerably in recent years at the highest level and the best in the game are now playmakers as much as shot-stoppers.
Murphy performs something of a quarter-back role for Kilkenny thanks to his willingness to move into space and make himself available to his defenders for a pass, and he believes his experience as an outfield player means it’s a role he’s very comfortable with.
“It certainly helps,” he said. “It gives you that overall confidence on the ball in play. Reading situations before they happen as the game is developing as well.
“Teams now try to create as much space as possible so you might have a two-man or even a one-man full-forward line because teams are trying to drag out and exploit corner-backs or full backs with their pace.
“So there's a lot of space to cover and you're part of that as well. You're not so much standing on the line anymore trying to dictate things. You're probably playing most of your game between the '14 and '21 once the ball is not near your goal.
“This year the last play against Limerick, when I struck the ball into the box I was on my own on '45 yard line when I picked up the ball.
“When teams are looking to create that space you just have to be on your toes and you know you have to get there to help out your backs.
“It can be a big reliever as well because they can be under so much now in the full-back line. Even go back to 2010 when Tipp were rotating all their forwards and since then the game has continued to evolve.
“This year Limerick were playing a triangle in the full-forward line with Seamus Flanagan playing out in front of Aaron Gillane and Graeme Mulcahy with the two of them creating space out in the corner.
“Yeah, I do feel that keepers have a bigger role to play. For myself and Nickey (Quaid) it's more of a benefit for us that we play out the field because we are a lot more comfortable on the ball than maybe older, traditional goalkeepers back a few years ago where you were just set to play in the goal.”
Murphy will be a key man for Kilkenny when they play Galway in tomorrow’s Wild Geese Trophy clash in Sydney, Australia.
The surroundings might be unfamiliar, but matches between these two teams are always hotly contested regardless of the circumstances.
“Yeah, they are,” said Murphy. “This one has a strange feeling to it because it's so far away, we're not in Salthill or Nowlan Park.
“But that will add a bit of bite to it as well because there's such a strong Irish community here in Sydney as well. They'll be wanting to see a competitive game and they will definitely get one because there's no love lost there.
“Off the field we respect each other and we respect each other on the field as well. But we know that if we don't hurl up to scratch then Galway will beat us and I'm sure that's likewise as well from their point of view.
“You see the names both teams have brought, this isn't just an end of season game. We're looking it as the start of the new season.
“Brian Cody and his selectors will be looking to see how players will react here. If we're not in the right mindset then we'll be blown out of the water.
“We're looking forward to it. There's silverware on the line so this match is really worth something. And because of the strong Irish connections here in Sydney you want to put on a bit of show for them as well.
“We were travelling for 24 or 25 hours to get here and we want to put on a show.”