Kilkenny V Galway: From Galway to Aut Even, but Dr Tom sticks with his own boys

“On the evidence seen so far, it is quite understandable that the vast majority of hurling people are of the opinion that Kilkenny will win the AllIreland final,” writes Barrie Henriques.

“On the evidence seen so far, it is quite understandable that the vast majority of hurling people are of the opinion that Kilkenny will win the AllIreland final,” writes Barrie Henriques.

The speaker?

No less a medical luminary than Dr Tom Murray, consultsnt radiologist at Aut Even Hospital on the Freshford Road, Kilkenny. Dr Tom is a hurling junkie, from Sarsfield country in New Inn, Galway.

All his life he has been one of Galway’s greatest hurling ambassadors, but also, when he felt it was necessary, one of their most ardent critics. And let’s face it, the need for the latter has been on the menu with a greater regularity than the former. He was Team Doctor to the Galway seniors for a number of years from 1985.

Dr Tom finds it difficult to marry the many successes at under-age levels to the scarcity of senior success, which should in essence be a natural by-product. That is really what has peeved the learned professional, friend to so many iconic hurlers, many of them from Kilkenny.

“You see the way Kilkenny go about their hurling business,” he said with assurance. “They have pioneered a Development System that is the envy of most if not all counties. You talk to people like Ned Quinn, and sure it’s an education.

Quinn would be the pick

“I remember reading in a national paper a couple of years ago where a man was asked if he got his pick of any GAA person in Kilkenny, that he would take Quinn above all others. Now that is a big statement, but I can see where he is coming from. Nickey Brennan was the man that pioneered the move of Galway into the Leinster arena. It has worked wonders for us.

“The Kilkenny people have a penchant for doing things right. Look at their record for God’s sake. Look and envy the achievements of Brian Cody. It couldn’t be bettered. They are in their 12th All-Ireland since 1999. Sure that is unbelievable.”

Dr Murray can go back a long way, a very long way, in the annals of Galway hurling. He would be the first to admit that his native county has produced a great number of great hurlers, listing people like Silke, Lynskey, Molloy, Cooney, the Connollys’ -John, Michael, and Joe - Frank Burke and Steve Mahon. John Connolly carried Galway hurling on his back for many a year.

Coming more into the near and now, he has great memories of the first All-Ireland win in 1980, the first in 57 years. That was the day when all Galway hurling people stood, in the middle of Croke Park, with tears running unashamedly in reaction to Joe Connolly’s, A mhuintir na Gaillimhe etc. one of the most memorable post match speeches of all time.

He can recall the Herculean efforts of Clarke (RIP), Silke, Lynskey, Molloy, John, Michael, and Joe Connolly, Steve Mahon et al. He remembers too the great half-back line of Finnerty, Keady, McInerney. The iconic Inky Flaherty, a graet hurler, and a brilliant manager brought a wry smile.

But he remembers the bad days too.

I have heard him say: “How is it that we are never able to be the bride. We just don’t turn up for our own weddings. We are content to put in a heroic performance, with no champagne at the end.”

He bemoans the poor standards set by officialdom which tends to self destruct at crucial moments. He is concerned by the quality, or the lack of quality, and heart of some players who pull on that famed maroon and white.

A Galway hurling man

But that is Tom Murray, a Galwegian to the core. He suffers fools lightly, and just cannot abide people who try to convince him of something when his eyes, his instincts, his perception tells him otherwise.

But he is a Galwegian hurling man for sure.

For the first time in a while, he has a good feeling about this Galway side.

“I am encouraged by what I see,” he assured. “It just seems to me that our structures have morphed into something promising. I am impressed with what Anthony (Cunningham) is trying to do. I feel that our time in the hurling wilderness is about to end. Maybe not this time round, but I feel that the graph is moving in the right direction.”

Was he surprised that Galway beat Kilkenny in the Leinster final, and was he surprised at the size of the winning margin?

“I feel that Kilkenny suffered from the whole fall out from the Dublin game,” Dr Tom offered. “Everyone in Kilkenny were talking up the Dublin game as a defining moment in the life of Kilkenny 2012. They had prepared for that game with a great expectancy. Dublin were rated probably a little higher than they possibly deserved.

“The lack of skill was very obvious too. Kilkenny put huge energy into the preparation for the game. Dublin, or at least the Dublin challenge, certainly didn’t merit that prep. I feel that the Leinster final came too soon afterwards for Kilkenny. Don’t forget that Kilkenny were short three or four of the best hurlers the country has ever seen.

“That said, I was thrilled with Galway. They showed great commitment, great thought, great passion and plenty of great skill. The Portumna lads looked very good, especially Joe (Canning). He is a special talent and he would walk onto any team in the land. I was thrilled with the management of the team by Anthony, Matty (Kenny) and Tom (Helebert).”

The fear from a Galway viewpoint was that their track record roared that there was always one such game in them. Cork loomed in the All-Ireland semi-final, and still the core doubt about Galway being capable of pasting two winning games back to back was very much on people’s minds.

Did you feel confident about the Cork game?

Game plan must be different

“I felt that they were fully capable of beating Cork, but I had some reservation,” he admitted. “It was a young Cork outfit, with a genius of an ex-player turned manager at the helm. They would have no inhibitions playing in Croke Park. In fact, they would have relished it.

“I was delighted that our lads won, but the same game plan will not do against Kilkenny. We were somewhat aimless, and misguided. Look, hurling is a simple game, made difficult by so-called experts and managers. Galway would not want to get carried away with the Cork result. It still only served the purpose of getting the ticket into the final. No more, no less”.

So now that the dinal is here, call it Tom!

“For a start, I feel that it will be a great contest between two teams that will play the game as it should be. I am really looking forward to it, and if Kilkenny bring their Tipp game to the table, and Galway have their Leinster final game in tow, it will be the game of all time. I am so looking forward to some of the match-ups.

“The battle between Joe and J.J. (Delaney) will be worth the entrance fee alone. JJ is one of the best full-backs that I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. It will be interesting to see who Jackie picks up. Then at the other end of the field it could be a real cat and mouse game watching the competition between Kevin Hynes, Tony Og Regan on the Galway side, and Richie Power and probably Eoin Larkin on the Kilkenny side.

“Kilkenny have two super wing backs in Tommy - a magician - and this young Rower Inistioge lad, Kieran Joyce. We have two nice finds in Niall Donoghue and Johnny Coen. I think that the real winner could be the spectators who are being asked to pay extraordinary money for a seat. I think that the GAA should cop on really, given the times we are living in.”

So the $45,000 question Tom - who will win?

“Well, if I knew that, I would be an extremely rich man at 5.15 on Sunday. I am hoping that Galway will win, of course. Every savage loves his native sod. Early on the talk was all about Kilkenny, and that was not surprising. Their reputation and their achievements have been stunning, and I for one feel privileged to have been around to see the greatest hurling team play the great game in the World bar none.

“The game is not more than a 50/50 encounter, and if Kilkenny do win, and Henry gets his record ninth medal, well, I won’t be surprised. Thrilled that I am working and living in Kilkennt, I will be the first to shake Henry’s hand. I’m hoping for a Galway win, and while my heart says Galway, my brain says Galway after a replay.”