Paul Murphy has become Kerry's Winston Wolf

The Rathmore dynamo quietly goes about his business, putting out fires and solving problems for Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, writes Dara Ó Cinnéide.
Paul Murphy has become Kerry's Winston Wolf

We’ll get to the game later but first, two gripes.

As a former freetaker, it’s been bugging me all throughout this year’s league that those taking free kicks, particularly those taking free kicks off the ground within scoring range, are being constantly interfered with.

Rule 4.19 of the latest version of the GAA Treoraí Oifigiúil clearly states that it is a technical foul “to interfere with a player taking a free kick or sideline kick by jumping up and down, waving hands, or any other physical or verbal interference considered by the referee to be aimed at distracting the player taking the kick”.

The only exception to this, and the only time such behaviour doesn’t constitute an interference is when a player is holding his hands upright in a standing position 13 metres away from the kick.

The penalty for interfering with a free-taker is a “free kick 13m more advantageous than the place of original kick - up to opponents’ 13m line”.

Why then, when Kerry’s David Moran took a long range free kick from the ground last weekend did a Monaghan player get away with jumping off his feet and half-blocking it.

Within a minute, David Coldrick proceeded to give a free kick against Moran who was surrounded by three or four opposition players and mauled on the ground. And Coldrick is the best referee in the country if the GAA’s policy of selecting the best for the biggest game is to be the yardstick. I’ve seen similar incidents involving all county teams in all six rounds of the league to date.

The other gripe? Well that relates to a dead ball situation at the other end of the field covered by Rule 4.32 of the playing rules – ‘To take the kick-out after a wide or after a score other than from the 13m line within the large rectangle’.

Watch any of tomorrow’s games and ask yourself if the goalkeeper is sticking by that one. How many times have you seen the referee issue the penalty for not taking the kick-out as required? The penalty, by the way, is the cancelling of the kick-out and the throwing in of the ball on the defending team’s 20m line, in front of the scoring space.

It may seem pedantic to be bringing these apparently minor matters to light at this stage, but not implementing the rules in these cases gives the offending team a major advantage in games that are increasingly being decided on the smallest of margins.

Enough digression though.

Tomorrow’s League tussle in Tralee brings its own intrigue for Cork and Kerry. It has been suggested elsewhere this week that, were Cork to win, it could become a season-defining game for a team desperate to hang their hat on something heading into the championship.

I’m not so sure.

It’s easy to forget that Cork had their biggest win over Kerry since 1990 in Tralee in the final round game just two years ago. Ultimately, that victory had zero nourishment value as Kerry went on to trounce Cork in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh Munster final that summer. With hindsight, the only indication of things to come in the league came was the sight of James O’ Donoghue forcing Michael Shields into the odd lunge whenever he was fed decent ball.

What a win for Cork tomorrow might do is give the Rebel panel three wins on the trot for the first time in a while and a sense of having achieved something from their rehabilitation these past few weeks. Beating the relegated Down team and a faltering Monaghan side isn’t enough proof of restoration.

Kerry know too what stock to place in their win against Monaghan last weekend. One of their more seasoned campaigners, Kieran Donaghy, said on these pages during the week that he’ll take the recent acclaim coming his way with a pinch of salt. Donaghy has been around long enough to know that the main aim of any league campaign is to give the management more options in different positions come summer. He has managed to do that and then some, but he will recognise, also, that midfield has been one of the major pressure points for Monaghan since Owen Lennon departed the scene. Maybe a joust with Ian Maguire will tell us more.

If, however, you want to know what Kerry are doing differently this year compared to last, you might get an idea by studying the opening ten minutes of the second half last Sunday. Kieran Donaghy gave us the most memorable score of the game in this period with a sliced right-legged kick from out on the right wing, and Colm Cooper, also gave a glimpse of the past with his tumble, turn and over-the-shoulder point.

But it was Paul Murphy’s quiet industry that left the lasting impression.

There is a memorable scene in the film Pulp Fiction where Jimmy (played by director, Quentin Tarantino) opens the door and Harvey Keitel’s character announces himself – “I’m Winston Wolf, I solve problems.” Much like the Wolf, Murphy is a no-nonsense character who cleans up messes before they escalate, prescribing practical solutions to emerging difficulties before going off elsewhere to do some more work.

A modern manager’s dream: “I’m Paul Murphy, I solve problems”.

From the throw-in after half time, Murphy picks up a breaking ball and moves it on efficiently. Within 20 seconds he dispossesses a Monaghan player with a toe-poke away to Johnny Buckley. Before another minute has elapsed, he takes a pass from a movement that had gone static and kicks the opening point of the second half to put Kerry a point up, 0-7 to 0-6.

Six minutes in, he has the awareness to spot that Kieran Donaghy has drifted into the edge of the square in a one-on-one situation. So he gives it high and handsome leading to an Alan Fitzgerald score that makes it 0-9 to 0-6.

Three minutes later, he wins a breaking ball from the kick-out that followed Donaghy’s wonder-score, offloads to Darran O’ Sullivan, who wins a free that is converted by Cooper, 0-12 to 0-6, and suddenly Kerry are out of sight.

Not everything that Murphy tried came off, but enough did to leave you with the sense of a young man crossing a serious threshold in his career. This time last year, the two black cards that Murphy had received in the league presaged a difficult second season and his year never quite got back on track.

This time around, Murphy is one of a number of key players given different roles and it’s a challenge he appears to be relishing.

The added bonus from Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s viewpoint is that he can now begin to address the conundrum that last year’s All-Ireland final threw up for him and his management team – what do you do if the greatest attacking threat of his generation, Colm Cooper, is being counteracted by being asked to defend too regularly for his liking?

Well, you surround him with players who like solving problems and clearing up messes. Then you get him on the ball as early and as often as you can when those loose passages of play get cleared up.

The approach seems to be working these past few weeks and Kerry and Paul Murphy appear too tuned in to allow Cork to halt their progress tomorrow.

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