KILKENNY defender, Paul Murphy, insisted life just couldn’t be better. Three years ago he was a fan supporting the Cats on Hill 16 at the All-Ireland. On Sunday he played in his third hurling final, two of them this season, and now he is being spoken about as a real contender for Hurler of the Year.
“Life can certainly change quickly,” a beaming Paul said after claiming a second Celtic cross.
“That match was something else. Every year is separate. There are different things to motivate you. Last year the motivation came off the back of the 2010 defeat. This year we felt we let ourselves down in the Leinster final. We felt we could have done better then. There is massive motivation there.
“There was an All-Ireland final at stake. At least if you play your best and lose, you cannot have any complaints. We tried to do that. We did it today and we got what we wanted. We are delighted, but each year is different.
“Our approach was that we would hurl our own game. You take you man and that is it. Keep communicating. We didn’t focus too much on what Galway would do. We went out to play our own game, and we did that. When Galway got the goals we didn’t panic. We said that if they got goals we would carry on. We did, and thankfully we held our nerve and we got the points that pushed us on.”
But what about playing in three All-Ireland finals in two seasons, that’s massive?
“I know, I know,” the Danesfort clubman beamed. “Its not bad going. Its funny, but it has been a funny old year. The build up to the replay was different. There was a lot of focus on the Donegal/Mayo football final.
“That left ourselves and Galway got to work away quietly. There was no hype. There were no distractions. There was a lot more free hurling produced. It is a strange thing to try and come back and try to lift yourself for a replay. Thankfully we did it.
“Winning in this manner is unbelievable. You see the likes of Walter Walsh coming in in his first match and scoring 1-3 and Cillian Buckley, a young lad, coming in and leading the way. And then Colin Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty were left off, but they didn’t complain. They came in and did their bit.
“The effort comes from everyone, regardless if you are on the panel 10 years or one year. It is a great place to be. We have a great group of lads. Everyone drive each other on. You realise how lucky you are when you see the likes of Michael Rice robbed of the chance to play because he is injured.
“You realise you might not play in the next match if that is to be your fate. You have to enjoy the moment, every match, every challenge as it comes.”
For former player of the year, J.J. Delaney the winning feeling simply gets better and better.
“Winning is an unbelievable feeling,” said the Fenians (Johnstown) man who collected his eight winners medal on Sunday. “Three weeks ago a lot of the lads came off the field and they felt they didn’t perform. We had a serious look at ourselves in the meantime and got our minds right more than our bodies.
“Our bodies were set. Mick Dempsey has us set for the last three or four weeks. It was all a mental thing. A replay was a new thing, but to play in two All-Ireland finals in the one year was something.
“The disappointment of the last day spurred us on. You are looking to peak on All-Ireland final day if you can at all and to turn in the complete performance. There is no point in playing well in the semi-final and then losing the final.
A lot of lads felt they didn’t hurl up to scratch in the drawn game, and I include myself in that.
“We enjoyed a great start this time. In the last two games against Galway we let them get into it early and they took it on from there. We got on top of them in the opening 10 minutes or so today. That was the plan. The forwards were unbelievable.
“Henry pulled us through the last day. Everyone played very, very well this time. The forwards have been doing that to us during training for the last few weeks. We knew it was in them. It was only a matter of getting it out of themselves. They were brilliant.
“It is all down to hunger, to want the ball. Hurling is a simple game. If you want the ball more than your opponent you will do all you can to get it. That is what we did today. A lot of lads were questioned and they had to stand up to the mark.
“Anyone who didn’t perform the last day did today. That is the beauty of Kilkenny. The team that started today won’t be there starting next year. It will evolve. You can only prepare for the year you are in.”
J.J. had to be reminded that Sunday’s victory completed another National League/Championship double. That not insignificant fact slipped his mind.
“The way it is is you only look forward to the game coming up,” he smiled in reply. “Looking back is for when you retire. If you look back when you are playing you are in dangerous territory, leaving yourself open to be blown out of the water.
“It is all about the next game, the next game, the next game. I will enjoy this win over the next few months. A win like this sustains you through the winter. It spurs you on.
“January, February and March are all about hard training. It is a very different side to the game. But the feeling when the final whistle goes and you share a special moment with all the lads who have put in the hard work with you is simply brilliant.