By Michael Moynihan
The ramifications from one cuppa.
Former Waterford star Eoin Murphy decided to drop in on old teammates Brick Walsh and Kevin Moran when the current Déise squad had a training camp in Fota a couple of months ago. Now, after that cup of tea, he’s a selector as they face into an All-Ireland final.
“I got chatting with himself (Derek McGrath) and Dan (Shanahan) then. He was kind of messing at one stage saying, ‘You’d look nice with a bib on you’, but he didn’t make any approach. It was actually around two weeks after that he approached me.”
Murphy discussed it with his wife Leona. It wasn’t the first time they had a loaded hurling debate around the kitchen table. Murphy might have crossed your radar back in 2011, when he fractured his skull in a club game: “I more or less blocked down a fella with my head. I got in a bit early and I flicked the ball away as he was turning and I was trying to get out of the way but he kept coming with his pull and I took the full force of it.
“I ended up going back for the end of that year but yeah, I hung up the boots after that at inter-county level. I went back with the club, which my wife and my mother wouldn’t have been too happy about. But I got the all clear.
“The scan is nice to see — it’s a bit like an Easter egg cracked in at one side. I was a very lucky boy. The helmet saved my life. I still have a little indentation there on the side of my temple. If I ever lose my hair you’ll be able to see it. I was lucky. I was very, very lucky, thanks to the medical personnel in Waterford and Cork.
“It was a freak accident, just one of those things. Bad timing. But at the time, it was a weird sensation. Now I know what it was — there were bones breaking and there was a bit of bleeding on the brain. But thankfully everything settled down and it just healed itself.”
McGrath wanted a fresh pair of eyes at Waterford training, and that’s what Murphy has provided.
“He wanted me to come in and have a look from my own perspective. To see what I thought and be a kind of a sounding board for him and for Dan as well. There was no specific remit.
“I suppose I played a lot of my days in defence so maybe I could relate to the backs a little bit more. Dan played in the forwards so maybe there was a bit of a balance there. But across the board, I just came in and watched and maybe saw a few little things and picked up on them.
“Small things like attitude at training and talking to players — I’m kind of happy in that mode, encouraging players and that kind of thing.”
He was there in 2008, of course, when Waterford were blitzed by Kilkenny.
“I’ve probably tried to delete the whole game from my memory. I shared it with the lads there last week. It was the best three weeks of my life followed by the worst six.
“I dreamed of playing in an All-Ireland final for so long as a young fella, just not that one. That one never came into my dreams. That was a nightmare.”
When did the shock set in that day?
“The second goal. Or maybe the third goal. They totally hit the ground running and we just ran into a storm on the day.
“Unfortunately, it was gone after 10 or 15 minutes. There was no way back at that stage and unfortunately, it was like dominos for the whole group — you just flick them and they’re gone.
“I’m not going to hark back to it with them (current Waterford side) because I believe this group is a new Waterford. The culture is probably a bit different, they’re a different set of players. They’re grounded and they’re able to deal with whatever’s thrown at them. The challenge for us as management is to try and keep the focus on the match.”
That can be hard, of course. All-Ireland final is “a bit like your wedding day”, says Murphy.
“All the preparation that goes into it, before you know it, it’s over. It’s gone like that. And of course, we want the group to enjoy it as well.
“Because this is what every young person who puts on an inter-county jersey, hurling and football wants. They want to get to the first Sunday in September or the third Sunday. So we’re not going to totally cocoon them.
“They can still enjoy it and embrace the final and the build-up. But there’s a balance there, especially coming into the last week, where you want to have everything sorted, be it tickets or whatever else.”
Murphy pays particular tribute to one of the men he had that cuppa with in Fota: “Brick has just been a fantastic, fantastic player. A great servant to Waterford GAA, mainly hurling but he’s an excellent footballer as well. That man is as dedicated as they come as regards doing what is asked and going the extra mile. That man has gone the extra mile every night, driving the group, driving himself. He will go to the ends of the earth just to go training.
“The helmet goes on inside in the dressing room and it doesn’t come off until he goes back in.
“And you know what? The players look up to him. He sets the tone, himself and Kevin (Moran). The work they put in to get themselves right is second to no-one.
“But he (Walsh) knows he’ll have to go again in an All-Ireland final. It’s a blank page again.”
The manager is a mirror image of Walsh and Moran, he adds: “I would say Derek lives, breathes and eats the job. He’s 110% thrown into it. He will do whatever he can to get the most out of the group and the players.
“He will drive to the ends of the earth for a player. If one of them asks him to do something, if they need something done in college or if they want a helping hand with career advice, he’s straight in going, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll go up with you.’
“It doesn’t matter what it is, if they have a problem or if they have an issue, he always says, ‘I’ll sort that.’ That’s just the way he is.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.