WHILE all the focus might have been on Henry Shefflin’s return on Saturday, those paying attention will have noted a similar-sized roar of approval when Paul Murphy was announced as a last-minute addition to Kilkenny backline.
The hardy corner back has established himself as a vital component of Kilkenny’s unyielding defence, earning a nomination for Hurler of the Year last year and continuing his fine run of form into this season. His performance on Saturday was as assured as ever. Any lingering pain from the ankle injury that saw him leave the field in the draw against Dublin was not in evidence.
“It was touch-and-go since I got the injury,” he said. “But I’m working hard on it, there’s not a whole lot you can do.
“I’ve just been working with the physio team and doing my own things gradually trying to build it up. It felt good earlier in the week and I suppose the only way to find out is we pushed a little bit harder.”
The Danesfort man was shrewd enough to keep the specific details to himself. A member of the national media enquired as to which ankle the damage was done, and the reply he got was nothing more than a quick smile and the polite message that Murphy wouldn’t be telling him!
Murphy, who later tweeted that Bruce Springsteen would do well do beat the atmosphere in the ’Park, revealed that it was one of the most intense build-ups to a game he had ever experienced, including All-Ireland finals. And with a combined 60 All-Ireland wins between the two sides, including the seven most recent ones, few were anticipating them staring into the abyss so early on in the season.
“I think a lot of lads, for ourselves and Tipp, we weren’t expecting to be in this situation,” he said.
“But look, we are here now. It is a different scenario, it is really do or die stuff, and it does add a bit of tension, a bit of pressure to the whole thing. You do have to perform, there is no safety net anymore.”
Four championship games in four weeks is certainly new ground for Murphy, who has enjoyed a more straightforward route to September since his inter-county introduction in 2011. But while the few weeks’ break in between games is the preferred option, he looks on this year’s hiccup as an opportunity to experience a different side of things..
“One thing we were saying all week was ‘this is kind of real championship hurling’ - your backs are against the wall and if you lose, you’re gone,” he says.
“Sadly, that’s the case for Tipperary, but look - Nowlan Park in front of 23,000 people - this is a special night in its own right. It’s a different ball game altogether, but you are really living on the edge.”
All the same, was it nice to see the back of Tipp so early? In Murphy’s inter-county career, Kilkenny have met them in the championship twice in two years - the semi-final in August last year and in the September 2011 final.
“It’s disappointing for Tipp; July to be out of the championship is not easy,” he said.
“We have massive respect for Tipp. We seem to play them an awful amount, and there’s no love lost, but we have massive respect for them at the same time.”
Saturday was the kind of game where the backs dominated for much of the 70 minutes. That said, Lar Corbett was certainly making his presence felt in the first half, until he pulled up with what has since been confirmed as a hamstring injury.
He won two frees in the first 10 minutes alone, and contributed that trademark poacher’s goal. But Murphy was magnanimous enough to not meditate on the ramifications of Corbett’s departure; a few sparse jeers from the crowd aside, no one likes to see a respected opponent leave the field due to injury.
“Lar is a dangerous man, he got the goal,” he said. “He was in the right place - that’s what Lar does, he stands in around the goal and he gets those dangerous goals.”
“No, you didn’t wish Lar to go off - at the end of the day, you want to play against the best players, and you don’t wish any injury on anyone. It was unfortunate for him.”
The attention now turns to this weekend’s clash with Waterford. Murphy has beaten them before in the championship, but he has no false sense of security.
“The qualifiers are dangerous because teams are hurting,” he said.
“A lot of teams are questioned, and some teams react better than others. It’s a dangerous place to be and Waterford are still a potent team capable of upsetting anyone.”