Kilkenny goalkeeper, Eoin Murphy
Kilkenny didn’t perform particularly well in the hurling championship last season, but still they weren’t far off the mark in games and that is a huge encouragement to the Cats heading into the Leinster Round Robin series.
Star goalie, Eoin Murphy, who at 27 has had to grow up quickly and develop into one of the leaders in the new and young squad, said everyone was looking forward to taking on the challenge of four games in five weeks in the all action championship.
The journey will start on Sunday with a huge game away to unknown quantity Dublin.
“Last year we didn’t perform,” was the straight up comment from the Glenmore clubman when he reflected on Championship 2017 when we spoke at the official launch of the Leinster championship.
“There is no denying that. Maybe there was a bit of a hangover from the All-Ireland final of 2016 or whatever.
“We just didn’t performing the way we wanted to. Still, we weren’t too far off the mark last year.
“Wexford did outperform us and they should have won by more the day they beat us in Wexford Park. It was much the same when Waterford beat us afterwards.
“They could have gone on and achieved great things, but they met a brilliant Galway team in the All-Ireland final.
“Look, we weren’t too far off the pace,” insisted the four times senior All-Ireland medal winner. “If we had more consistency last year, who knows?”
A requirement for the four game schedule in the Leinster Round Robin series was momentum, he felt, and Kilkenny had a bit of that following their victory in the National League.
“We have a small bit of momentum from the League,” Eoin continued.
And the players were delighted with how that early season competition went.
There was a “different dynamic” in the new squad assembled by management, Brian Cody, Michael Dempsey, Derek Lyng and James McGarry.
Kilkenny shed “some brilliant players”, Eoin admitted, but that was the way things worked.
“Hurling, the game, moves on,” Eoin said. “There will be lots of changes in the future and Kilkenny hurling will still be here in 50 and more years. You get the jersey for a while and you try to leave it in a better place.”
Having a competitive nature was part of the requirement.
The more experienced members like himself, Lester Ryan, Conor Fogarty, T.J. Reid, Richie Hogan, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh had to offer a bit of direction to the new lads, who, he felt, “had enough hurling in them to make it”.
He was happy Kilkenny were in a good place to deal with the various challenges - the long or short ball game; the sweeper system.
“We feel we can play the game both ways; short if we need to or we can go long and a more direct route,” insisted the SME Finance and Leasing Solutions (Callan) employee when one asked did Kilkenny now feel more comfortable going in against the sweeper system.
“There were times in the past when we couldn’t get a hold on that,” Eoin offered. “This time we have been doing so. Guys are more comfortable looking for the ball short.
“There are brilliant hurlers there. They can play the ball whatever way it comes to them.”
The Kilkenny report card would read “so far, so good” following the National League win, which was reward for hard work and effort, Eoin insisted.
Inside the group Kilkenny reckoned they had “a good panel”.
The young lads didn’t have a lot of experience, but it was felt they were good hurlers and all had been performing very well with their clubs, colleges and even schools.
“We knew we had the makings of a good team,” Eoin insisted. “We got a bit of luck too. We got through the campaign without suffering a lot of injuries, which is a big thing.
“That is going to be massive in the championship too, keeping a good panel and having everyone fit and fresh.
“The panel will have to be used. We did that during the League, so hopefully the younger guys can use that experience and they will perform in the Leinster championship.
“A lot of them have another 10 years or more of inter-county hurling ahead of them.
“Winning is a good habit to get into. Losing is a bad habit. Fine margins win or lose games; learning to make vital decisions at critical times is part of the process. That is why a winning momentum is massive.
“Confidence is good, and when things are like that making decisions, and the right ones, is easier.”
So, what about playing Dublin in the tight surrounds of Parnell Park?
Eoin said the way the stadium was built around the pitch, with narrow sidelines, made it feel like the crowd was in on top of you.
“In other grounds you have a gap between the sideline and the stand, like in Thurles, for example,” he said when he took up the story. “It will be a fiercely partisan crowd there.
“I was talking to Eoghan O’Donnell (Dublin player) months ago and he was saying they were hoping to have their home games in Parnell Park. They feel that is their hurling grounds.
“You cannot be afraid of any challenge. You have to meet everything head on.
“Parnell Park is a tough place to go. The first game is massive in terms of building momentum for Leinster, so the challenge won’t be easy.”
While beating Tipperary in the final and Wexford away in the closing two games in the League was huge, Eoin felt the biggest moment came against Clare in Match 2. Kilkenny were “a bit of a shambles” during the opening 20 minutes, he felt, but then management made changes and introduced a number of subs.
Suddenly Kilkenny were a new team.
“The turning point in the season so far was the closing 40 minutes or so against Clare,” Eoin said with assurance. “The changes seemed to settle things after that. I made a mistake that day and it was costly.
“It was the three point difference in the end, but I couldn’t let it affect me. You have to move on and be confident in your own ability. From there on things changed for us. From there on we appeared to get a foothold in games and impose ourselves on opponents. Now we have to take the next step.”