Kerry's Paul Murphy: Asking us to play all year round is quite the stretch

A new coach, new management, new team-mates, a new training base - all around Kerry defender Paul Murphy, there’s substantial change in green and gold for 2019. The Rathmore man is the phlegmatic sort and deals as authoritatively with the winter’s revolving doors as he does his defensive and sweeping duties on the pitch.

But mention the issue of the GAA club calendar to Murphy — he tweeted his frustration before Christmas — and it’s evident that change in that sphere isn’t coming at anything like the rate he’d expect. Certainly not in the context of an inter-county player trying to fit some downtime into his calendar.

“One hundred percent that should be looked at,” he states firmly. “If you take it on a national level first, I don’t know why the All-Ireland Club finals (in March) are three months after a Munster or provincial final. That’s just crazy. If they finished the club finals in the calendar year, say December, then that would mean that all your provincial club finals would have to be finished by the end of November. That is the ideal scenario but I don’t know is there an appetite for that at a national level. The tradition of having (the Club finals) on St Patrick’s Day seems to be sacred in some quarters. My club has never been involved at that stage so people might say I’m not in a position to talk, but if I was to win an All-Ireland Club Championship, it would not matter what date or what public holiday it was on.

“The club (fixtures programme) year here in Kerry needs to be streamlined a bit. It is very tough for everyone involved to be playing football into December. The quality isn’t what it would be if it was played earlier in the year. Players just aren’t getting a break — it’s crazy.“

Murphy’s gripe is based on the fact that the divisional championships in the Kingdom are traditionally bolted onto the back end of the club championship season, which means that finals in North Kerry, South Kerry and Rathmore’s own East Kerry Championships invariably stretch into the last week of December — and beyond. In the case of East Kerry’s O’Donoghue Cup, the success of Dr Crokes at county and provincial level is a complicating factor.

“It is much more frustrating for the team who isn’t holding it up,” says Murphy. 

If you are the team holding (the divisional championship) up, you are still playing every week, plus you are winning so there is great momentum and a great buzz in that. But for the clubs that are left waiting it is much more frustrating, but it’s not a new issue in Kerry — particularly in East Kerry.

Nobody can claim that they were blindsided with what happened last year (Rathmore had to wait until the week before Christmas to play Crokes in East Kerry semi-final) because Dr Crokes won the Kerry SFC and represented Kerry in Munster. But I don’t think it has ever been looked at with potential solutions being debated. It has been accepted that the competition will go on until December and in some cases January which is very frustrating for players. Everyone in the clubs is affected when it’s dragged out and nobody gets a break.

Which is why the new Kerry set-up is a timely antidote for Murphy to the serial frustration of extended club campaigns. The Rathmore man was plucked from relative obscurity by Eamonn Fitzmaurice in 2012 for Kerry’s Under 21s, so he developed a strong working relationship with the previous Kerry manager. But Peter Keane’s “clean slate” approach has everyone in the squad keen to state their case.

“He seems to be a very sharp reader of a game,” Murphy says of the new gaffer. “Even from incidents in training, he has a great capacity to recall incidents or passages of play I would have been involved in. So if he is doing that for one player, he is doing for others. He can identify trends and patterns in a game and has good ideas and solutions on how to improve patterns or habits or things like that. So I have been very impressed with Peter so far.”

The 2019 dressing room has a lot fewer greybeards and a few more fresh-faced talents in their stead. “It’s not weird but it is certainly different because the lads who have retired were fellows you were meeting three days a week for nine months of the year. You go from that to maybe meeting them at a wedding or something like that. It’s a new group.

“The WhatsApp group is a good indicator of your inter-county career nowadays because once you either leave the group or are removed, that’s when you know you are no longer part of the squad, so you are only passing through. That’s how it goes really.”

Murphy, favoured to be named captian for Kerry’s league opener against Tyrone on Sunday, may be expected to help the freshmen find their feet but he will approach things in his standard understand way.

“A lot of the time it’s not grand big gestures, like putting the arm around the shoulder and giving them huge advice. It’s more about chatting away like normal lads in a team do and getting to know the lads. That’s probably the best approach and if they need advice, or you feel they need advice, then give it.”

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